Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #880 The ISIS File: The Myth of the Moderates

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This program was recorded in one, 60-minute segment

Introduction: With reportage of ISIS dominating the news cycle in the aftermath of the second Paris massacre of this calendar year (“Machiavelli 3.0”?) and the San Bernardino shootings, we explore the genesis and operations of the organization. (Please examine this show–the description for it in particular–to see the extent to which it frames the political rhetoric on the Islamist and “Euro-reactionary” sides. That rhetorical dynamic has only increased in the wake of the most recent attacks.)

We begin by reviewing the fact that evidence that CIA is aiding the so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria, and by extension, ISIS, is strong. They are working with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in that capacity.

This should be evaluated against the background of: the use of Islamists as proxy warriors against Russia and China; the transnational corporations embrace of the “corporatist” economics of the Muslim Brotherhood (parent institution of al-Qaeda and its related organizations) and the highly mutable nature of the Islamist militants in Syria (elements of the Nusra Front–an al-Qaeda affiliate–have readily embraced ISIS).

After reviewing ISIS founder al-Baghradi’s “former” membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, we examine several articles relating information from a de-classified DIA document that details the support of American allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar for the establishment of a Sunni caliphate in Syria as part of the pressure on President Assad.

Even Vice President Joe Biden noted the role of America’s allies in the growth of ISIS (failing to mention covert support for their efforts by elements of CIA.)

A VERY telling comment was made in October by the chief of Turkish intelligence. In effect, it was an oblique endorsement of ISIS.

The program reviews a short quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski, read by Elizabeth Gould in FTR #872. Brzezinski is quite open about the utility of using Islamists to destabilize Russia and China.

We note in that context that the Al Kifah organization switched its focus from supporting the Mujahadin in Afghanistan to supporting the Islamists from Chechnya. ISIS appears to have drawn heavily on Chechnyan jihadists and now Chechens have materialized in Ukraine.

Program Highlights Include:

1a. The evidence that elements of CIA is aiding the so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria, and by extension, ISIS, is strong. They are working with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in that capacity.

“C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition” by Eric Schmitt; The New York Times; 6/21/2012.

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said. . . .

1b. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been identified by key Muslim Brotherhood cleric Youssef Qaradawi as a “former” member of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the article below, note that Qaradawi notes the key terrorist leaders that were “former” members of the Brotherhood. The “former” is to be taken with a huge dose of salt–Muslim fascists are as capable as European and American fascists at implementing “plausible deniability.”

“FEATURED: Youssef Qaradawi Says ISIS Leader Was Once Muslim Brotherhood; First English Translation of Statement”; Global Muslim Brotherhood Watch; 10/21/2014.

The GMBDW has discovered what appears to be the first English translation of the video in which Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi can be seen referring to what is almost certainly Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and explaining that he was once a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. At time 0:44 of the video, posted on the Brotherhoodwatch.co.uk website, Qaradawi refers to “this youngster” who once belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood but desiring leadership and after a period in prison (al-Baghdadi is thought to have spent five years in an American detention facility) went on to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS). It would appear that al-Baghdadi joins the ranks of other infamous terrorist leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Khalid Meshalal who once belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood before going on to joining leading terrorist organizations. In the video (time 1:12), Qaradawi also refers to unidentified “youngsters” from Qatar who also joined ISIS. . . . .

1c. Our recent series of programs featuring Peter Levenda discussing The Hitler Legacy highlighted the genesis of “weaponized Islam” and the use of jihadists as proxy warriors by Imperial Germany in World War I, Nazi Germany in World War II and, finally, the U.S. and the West during the Cold War.

In FTR #773, we noted the circumstances surrounding the Boston Marathon Bombing. In that program, we opined that the evidence suggested very strongly that elements of U.S. and Western intelligence were continuing to use jihadists as “proxy warriors,” in this case against Russia in the Caucasus.

In that program, we also suggested that the Boston Marathon Bombing itself, like 9/11, was “blowback” from our continued use of Islamic fascists as proxies.

We have also noted that, in effect, there is a proxy war component to the burgeoning Shia/Sunni conflict in the Middle East. Russia is supportive of the Shiite national combatant forces–Iran and Syria, primarily. This appears to be a gambit intended, in part, to shield Russia’s southern flank from further assault by Sunni proxy warriors.

Alparslan Celik & Friends give the Grey Wolf hand sign. They executed the pilot of the Su-24.

There have been indications of Saudi pre-planning their anti-Shiite crusade. Prince Bandar spoke ominously of a day of retribution against Shiites. In addition, we have discussed the “corporatist” economic viewpoint of the Muslim Brotherhood, an ideology that frames that organization in the same context as Hitler, Mussolini and Imperial Japan. Although those countries were bitter opponents of the U.S. and democracy itself, their anti-communist and fascist [“corporatist”] ideology made them desirable to the transnational corporations that helped to spawn the fascist powers in the first place.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the parent organization of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and, very possibly ISIS. (It’s head is a “former” member of the Brotherhood.)

It should be understood that, for the transnationals and the GOP and other political elements that support them and are, in turn, supported by them, the U.S. casualties from World War II, the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the Boston Marathon Bombing are acceptable losses.” They are collateral damage, acceptable under the circumstances.

Attacks like the Paris incidents of 2015 also serve as a de facto “strategy of tension,” buttressing the far-right and the forces of reaction and justifying intrusions on civil liberties. Although we don’t think this is the primary motivation for the Western intelligence collaboration with Sunni jihadists, the benefits of the “blowback” are considerable and welcomed by fascists in this country and others.

ISIS recruits pledging allegiance. They are NOT auditioning for an anti-perspirant commercial.

A recent post by German Foreign Policy fleshes out this line of inquiry. (German Foreign Policy feeds along the lower right hand side of the front page of this website.)

“The Jihad’s Usefulness (II);” german-foreign-policy.com; 5/28/2015.

A recently declassified memo of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reveals that the West had supported the creation of the “Islamic State” (IS). Using jihadist forces has been a Western tradition for decades, as the Afghanistan war in the 1980s and an analysis of the Western power struggle with Iran (especially since 2003) show. In the 1980s, western countries – in collaboration with Saudi Arabia – had supported jihadists associated with Osama bin Laden, to defeat Soviet military forces in Afghanistan. Since at least ten years, they have been supporting Arab jihadists in an effort to weaken Iran’s main allies. These activities, accompanying the official “war on terror,” are “a very high-risk venture,” warn US intelligence officials. Saudi Arabia, one of Germany’s main allies in the Arab world, is playing a central role in supporting jihadists.

Against the Soviet Union

Western powers first used modern jihadism on a major scale during the 1980s in Afghanistan. In their quest to defeat the pro-Soviet Afghan government and the Soviet military stationed in Afghanistan, the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany and other NATO member countries banked, not only on the Afghan Mujahidin, but also Arab jihadists, including Osama bin Laden.[1] The then little known Osama bin Laden, and the other jihadists were promoted with Saudi Arabia’s financial and logistical support. The head of Saudi foreign intelligence at the time and Bin Laden’s contact person, Prince Turki al Faisal bin Abdulaziz al Saud played a major role. Today, he provides his political expertise to the “Advisory Council” of the Munich Security Conference.[2] The Afghan Mujahidin and the growing number of Arab jihadists finally succeeded in forcing the Soviet armed forces into withdrawing from Afghanistan. From the western perspective, jihadism had therefore proven its effectiveness as an instrument in fighting secular, socialist forces.

Against Iran

The al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (August 7, 1998), the US counter attack on al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan (August 20, 1998) and particularly the 9/11 terror attacks and the ensuing war on Afghanistan seemed to have led to an irreparable rift between the West and the jihadists. However, the “war on terror” did not hinder the West from again engaging in punctual cooperation with Arab jihadists – this time, not a struggle against secular socialist forces, but an attempt at weakening Iran. With Iraq’s destruction starting in 2003, the US-led war alliance had neutralized Iran’s traditional rival, inadvertently opening an opportunity for Iran becoming a Persian Gulf regional hegemonic power. To prevent this, Western powers began an arms buildup of the Gulf dictatorships – particularly Saudi Arabia – to create a counterforce.[3] These dictatorships, in turn, soon began subverting Iran’s regional allies – for example Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

“High Risk Venture”

This has led to Arab jihadists being called back into action. In 2007, the US journalist Seymour Hersh exposed how the West, together with Saudi Arabia, was moving against Hezbollah in Lebanon.[4] While, on the one hand, for example the German Navy was participating in the UN mission off the Lebanese coast to prevent arms supplies from reaching this Shiite militia, Riyadh, on the other hand, was building up their most resolute enemies, the Salafists and jihadists, whose hatred of Shiite Muslims is as strong as their hatred of secular, socialist forces. In early 2007, government officials from various countries had confirmed to Hersh that the USA and Saudi Arabia were providing Lebanese Salafist and jihadist organizations with the means for fighting Hezbollah. A Lebanese government official told Hersh, “we have a liberal attitude, allowing those al Qaeda groups to maintain a presence here.” A former agent from the United States explicitly admitted, “we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. It’s a very high-risk venture.”

A Salafist Principality

The fact that the West is following this same strategy in the war in Syria has been confirmed in a memo, dating from August 2012, from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and made public last week. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5]) According to the memo, the creation of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria was seen as advantageous – to deprive the “Shiite expansion,” emanating from Iran, its “strategic depth” in Syria. The “Islamic State” (IS), in fact, has evolved from that “Salafist principality.”

The Bandar Plan

The western powers along with their main regional allies – Turkey and Saudi Arabia – have actively built up the Salafist and jihadist militias, in Syria, with the ex-Saudi Ambassador to the United States (1983 – 2005), Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud playing a decisive role. In his function as General Secretary of the Saudi National Security Council (2005), Bandar bin Sultan supported the Lebanese Salafists, and as head of the Saudi intelligence services, (2012), he was also involved in the Syrian war. The “Bandar Plan,” named after him, called for forming and arming insurgent militias in Syria. In fact, this refers to the – primarily Salafist – military units being financed by Saudi Arabia. The plan also calls for the infiltration of Saudi agents into al Qaeda allied groups and using other means to influence those jihadist militias, where infiltration proved unfeasible. Within this framework Saudi Arabia even provided aid to IS, albeit the financing, in this case, was inofficial, furnished by private jihadist supporters, according to an Israeli analysis published in 2014.[6] Only after the IS began expanding in Iraq, in early 2014, and began creating the situation that the DIA had warned of in August 2012,[7] was Bandar bin Sultan relieved of his duties and flown to the USA “for medical treatment.” In the summer of 2014, western countries found themselves compelled to militarily intervene against IS, which was gathering strength. This is the IS, the West had paternalistically watched taking its first steps in the struggle against the government of President Assad, their common enemy.

Destructive Potential

Even this has not put an end to the West’s use of jihadists. Most recently, the US-led “anti-IS coalition” stood by watching as IS drove Syrian government troops out of Palmyra, a strategically important city – a welcome support in the war on President Assad’s government. According to reports, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have “again been closely collaborating” since March. Of course, in the war on Syria “they do not have their sights on the IS, but rather target Assad” – Riyadh and Ankara’s more polite formulation of the standard Salafist and jihadist demand.[8] Western strategists have even begun proposing using jihadists in the struggle against the jihadists of IS, which has become much too powerful. According to a recent website article of the US “Foreign Affairs” journal, the al Qaeda should not be allowed to be further weakened. Al Qaeda must be allowed to continue to exist to keep its supporters from defecting to IS. Therefore the terrorist organization should be kept “afloat and [Aiman az-] Zawahiri alive.”[9] Jihadists are only being fought, if they become too powerful – as in the case of IS – or if they begin to attack western targets. Otherwise, their destructive potential is considered a western secret asset in its war on common enemies.

[1] More information on the Jihadists in Afghanistan and the West in: Steve Coll: Ghost Wars. The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. New York 2004.

[2] See Old Allies and Good Guys, Bad Guys.

[3] See Gulf Stability and Hegemonic Conflict at the Gulf (II).

[4] Seymour M. Hersh: The Redirection. Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism? www.newyorker.com 05.03.2007.

[5] See Vom Nutzen des Jihad (I) and A Salafist Principality.

[6] Udi Dekel, Orit Perlov: The Saudi Arabia and Kuwait “Outposts Project”: Al-Qaeda and Its Affiliates. The Institute for National Security Studies, INSS Insight No. 517, 16.02.2014.

[7] See Vom Nutzen des Jihad (I) and A Salafist Principality.

[8] Markus Bickel: Fortschritte und Rückschritte in Syrien. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 09.05.2015.

[9] Barak Mendelsohn: Accepting Al Qaeda. www.foreignaffairs.com 09.03.2015.

1d. German Foreign Policy article presents more of the text of the DIA document excerpted above.

“A Salafist Principality;” german-foreign-policy; 5/27/2015.

In August 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) mentioned a possible “Salafist Principality” in Eastern Syria and a possible foundation of an “Islamic State”. german-foreign-policy.com documents excerpts from the DIA paper.

Department of Defense: Information report, not finally evaluated intelligence. 14-L-0552/DIA/287-293.
The general situation:
A. Internally, events are taking a clear sectarian direction.
B. The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.
C. The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey support the opposition, while Russia, China, and Iran support the regime.
3. Al Qaeda – Iraq (AQI):
A. AQI is familiar with Syria. AQI trained in Syria and then infiltrated into Iraq.
B. AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.
5. The population living on the border:
A. The population living on the border has a social-tribal style, which is bound by strong tribal and familial marital ties.
B. Their sectarian affiliation unites the two sides when events happen in the region.
C. AQI had major pockets and bases on both sides of the border to facilitate the flow of materiel and recruits.
D. There was a regression of AQI in the western provinces of Iraq during the years of 2009 and 2010. However, after the rise of the insurgency in Syria, the religious and tribal powers in the regions began to sympathize with the sectarian uprising. This (sympathy) appeared in Friday prayer sermons, which called for volunteers to support the Sunnis in Syria.
8. The effects on Iraq:

C. If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).
D. The deterioration of the situation has dire consequences on the Iraqi situation and are as follows:
1. This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockes in Mosul and Ramadi, and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy, the dissenters. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.

3. The renewing facilitation of terrorist elements from all over the Arab world entering into Iraqi arena.
1e. More about the declassified DIA memo (this article is the source of the screen shots of the memo.)
Judicial Watch has – for many years – obtained sensitive U.S. government documents through freedom of information requests and lawsuits.

The government just produced documents to Judicial Watch in response to a freedom of information suit which show that the West has long supported ISIS. The documents were written by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency on August 12, 2012 … years before ISIS burst onto the world stage.

Here are screenshots from the documents. We have highlighted the relevant parts in yellow:

 1f. Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden heightened suspicions about the West having mid-wived the birth of ISIS.

“Behind Biden’s Gaffe Lie Real Concerns About the West’s Role in Rise of the Islamic State” by Adam Taylor; The Washington Post; 10/06/2014.

. . . . When asked by a student whether the United States should have acted earlier in Syria, Biden first explains that there was “no moderate middle” in the Syrian civil war, before changing the topic to talk about America’s allies:

“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends, and I have a great relationship with Erdogan, [who] I just spent a lot of time with, [and] the Saudis, the Emirates, etcetera.

What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad, and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied, [they] were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world.

Now, you think I’m exaggerating? Take a look. Where did all of this go? So now that’s happening, all of a sudden, everybody is awakened because this outfit called ISIL, which was al-Qaeda in Iraq, when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space and territory in [eastern] Syria, [and they] work with al-Nusra, who we declared a terrorist group early on. And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them. . . .

So what happened? . . . .

2c. Dur­ing a Skype inter­view back in Octo­ber, Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s intel­i­gence service, railed against Rus­sia try­ing to sup­press Syria’s Islamist rev­o­lu­tion and asserted that “ISIS is a real­ity and we have to accept that we can­not erad­i­cate a well-organized and pop­u­lar estab­lish­ment such as the Islamic State; there­fore I urge my west­ern col­leagues to revise their mind­set about Islamic polit­i­cal cur­rents, put aside their cyn­i­cal men­tal­ité and thwart Vladimir Putin’s plans to crush Syr­ian Islamist rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.”

“Turk­ish Intel­li­gence Chief: Putin’s Inter­ven­tion in Syria Is Against Islam and Inter­na­tional Law, ISIS Is a Real­ity and We Are Opti­mistic about the Future”; AWD News; 10/18/2015.

Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intel­li­gence Orga­ni­za­tion, known by the MIT acronym, has drawn a lot of atten­tion and crit­i­cism for his con­tro­ver­sial com­ments about ISIS.

Mr. Hakan Fidan, Turk­ish President’s staunchest ally, con­demned Russ­ian mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in Syria, accus­ing Moscow of try­ing to ‘smother’ Syria’s Islamist rev­o­lu­tion and seri­ous breach of United Nations law.

“ISIS is a real­ity and we have to accept that we can­not erad­i­cate a well-organized and pop­u­lar estab­lish­ment such as the Islamic State; there­fore I urge my west­ern col­leagues to revise their mind­set about Islamic polit­i­cal cur­rents, put aside their cyn­i­cal men­tal­ité and thwart Vladimir Putin’s plans to crush Syr­ian Islamist rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies,” Anadolu News Agency quoted Mr. Fidan as say­ing on Sunday.

Fidan fur­ther added that in order to deal with the vast num­ber of for­eign Jihadists crav­ing to travel to Syria, it is imper­a­tive that ISIS must set up a con­sulate or at least a polit­i­cal office in Istan­bul. He under­lined that it is Turkey’s firm belief to pro­vide med­ical care for all injured peo­ple flee­ing Russ­ian ruth­less airstrikes regard­less of their polit­i­cal or reli­gious affiliation.

Recently as the fierce clashes between Russ­ian army and ISIS ter­ror­ists rag­ing across the war-torn Syria, count­less num­ber of ISIS injured fight­ers enter the Turk­ish ter­ri­tory and are being admit­ted in the mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals namely those in Hatay Province. Over the last few days, the Syr­ian army with the sup­port of Russ­ian air cover could fend off ISIS forces in strate­gic provinces of Homs and Hama.

Emile Hokayem, a Washington-based Mid­dle East ana­lyst said that Turkey’s Erdo­gan and his oil-rich Arab allies have dual agen­das in the war on ter­ror and as a mat­ter of fact they are sup­ply­ing the Islamist mil­i­tants with weapons and money, thus Russ­ian inter­ven­tion is con­sid­ered a dev­as­tat­ing set­back for their efforts to over­throw Syr­ian sec­u­lar Pres­i­dent Assad.

Hokayem who was speak­ing via Skype from Wash­ing­ton, D.C. high­lighted the dan­ger of Turkish-backed ter­ror­ist groups and added that what is hap­pen­ing in Syria can­not be cat­e­go­rized as a gen­uine and pop­u­lar rev­o­lu­tion against dic­ta­tor­ship but rather it is a chaos orches­trated by Erdo­gan who is dream­ing to revive this ancestor’s infa­mous Ottoman Empire.

3a. Next, we recap a short reading by Elizabeth Gould of a quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski about using Islamist forces to de-stabilize post-Cold War Russia and China. (This was originally read in FTR #872.)

3b. A major focal point of Chech­nyan jihadism is in Boston, evolved from the Al Kifah orga­ni­za­tion, renamed CARE (not to be con­fused with the UN char­ity.) That milieu is inex­tri­ca­bly linked with the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

“Boston’s Jihadist Past” by J.M. Berger; For­eign Pol­icy; 4/22/2013.

When Boston Marathon run­ners rounded the bend from Bea­con Street last week, they were in the home stretch of the race. As they poured through the closed inter­sec­tion, they ran past a non­de­script address: 510 Com­mon­wealth Avenue.

The loca­tion was once home to an inter­na­tional sup­port net­work that raised funds and recruited fight­ers for a jihadist insur­gency against Russ­ian rule over Chech­nya, a region and a con­flict that few of the run­ners had likely ever given any seri­ous thought. . . .

. . . . (The most impor­tant Chechen jihadist group has dis­avowed the attack, but has not unequiv­o­cally ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity of some kind of con­tact with Tamerlan.) . . .

. . . But if the lead pans out, it won’t be Boston’s first brush with that far­away war. Dur­ing the 1980s and into the 1990s, Islamist for­eign fight­ers oper­ated robust recruit­ing and financ­ing net­works that sup­ported Chechen jihadists from the United States, and Boston was home to one of the most sig­nif­i­cant cen­ters: a branch of the Al Kifah Cen­ter based in Brook­lyn, which would later be rechris­tened CARE International.

Al Kifah sprang from the mil­i­tary jihad against the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan. Through the end of the occu­pa­tion, a net­work of cen­ters in the United States helped sup­port the efforts of Afghan and Arab muja­hedeen, solic­it­ing dona­tions and recruit­ing fight­ers, includ­ing at least four from Boston who died in action (one of them a for­mer Dunkin Donuts employee). When the war ended, those net­works did not dis­ap­pear; they refo­cused on other activities.

In Brook­lyn, that net­work turned against the United States. The center’s lead­ers and many of its mem­bers helped facil­i­tate the 1993 World Trade Cen­ter bomb­ing, and they actively planned and attempted to exe­cute a sub­se­quent plot that sum­mer to blow up the Lin­coln and Hol­land Tun­nels in New York, which would have killed thousands. . . .

. . . . When the FBI thwarted the tun­nels plot, the Brook­lyn Al Kifah office and most of the other satel­lite loca­tions were shut­tered. But in Boston, the work con­tin­ued under a new name and with a new focus: sup­port­ing foreign-fighter efforts in Bosnia and Chechnya.

The fol­low­ing nar­ra­tive is derived from inter­views and thou­sands of pages of court exhibits, includ­ing cor­re­spon­dence, Al Kifah and CARE Inter­na­tional pub­li­ca­tions, and tele­phone inter­cepts devel­oped over a years-long series of FBI inves­ti­ga­tions into the char­ity that were made pub­lic as part of mul­ti­ple terrorism-related prosecutions.

Estab­lished in the early 1990s, the Boston branch had emerged from the World Trade Cen­ter inves­ti­ga­tion rel­a­tively unscathed. Lit­tle more than two weeks after the bomb­ing, the head of the Boston office, Emad Muntasser, changed his operation’s name from Al Kifah to CARE Inter­na­tional (not to be con­fused with the legit­i­mate char­ity of the same name). . . .

. . . . It took longer to build a case against CARE. In 2005, pros­e­cu­tors in Boston went after the charity’s direc­tors using the Al Capone strat­egy. Muntasser and fel­low Boston-area CARE offi­cials Samir Al Monla and Muhamed Mubayyid were charged with fil­ing false tax returns and related crimes, hav­ing mis­rep­re­sented their polit­i­cal and mil­i­tant activ­ity as relief for orphans and wid­ows in order to obtain a non­profit tax exemption.

The strat­egy was not as suc­cess­ful as it was with Capone. The defen­dants were con­victed but received min­i­mal sen­tences after years of appeals and legal dis­putes. Muntasser and Al Monla have since been released from prison and are liv­ing in the United States, accord­ing to pub­lic records data­bases. Mubayyid was deported after a short sen­tence and was last reported to be liv­ing in Australia. . . .

4. We highlight an article noting the military prowess and sophistication of ISIS. Critical to this analysis is the apparent role of the Chechens in the tactical development of the group. In FTR #381. we noted the role of the Al-Taqwa milieu in the funding of the Chechen separatists. U.S. and Western funding for the Chechens appears to have continued, as we saw in our analysis of the Boston Marathon Bombing.

In the context of U.S. and Western support for the OUN/B milieu in Ukraine, including the UNA-UNSO fighters who fought with the Chechens and elsewhere in the Caucasus, we may well be seeing “blowback” from what we have termed The Earth Island Boogie in the development of ISIS’ sophistication. As discussed in FTR #808, the UNA-UNSO fighters were initially composed largely of Ukrainian veterans of the Afghan war. The organization gave rise directly to Pravy Sektor.

As we have seen in FTR #878, Pravy Sektor is working with Chechen Islamists from ISIS, as well as Pan-Turkist Crimean Tatars.

“The Durability of Ukrainian Fascism” by Peter Lee; Strategic Culture; 6/9/2014.

. . . . One of Bandera’s lieutenants was Roman Shukhevych.  In February 1945, Shukhevych issued an order stating, “In view of the success of the Soviet forces it is necessary to speed up the liquidation of the Poles, they must be totally wiped out, their villages burned … only the Polish population must be destroyed.”

As a matter of additional embarrassment, Shukhevych was also a commander in the Nachtigall (Nightingale) battalion organized by the Wehrmacht.

Today, a major preoccupation of Ukrainian nationalist historical scholarship is beating back rather convincing allegations by Russian, Polish, and Jewish historians that Nachtigall was an important and active participant in the massacre of Lviv Jews orchestrated by the German army upon its arrival in June 1941. . . .

. . . . Yuriy Shukhevych’s role in modern Ukrainian fascism is not simply that of an inspirational figurehead and reminder of his father’s anti-Soviet heroics for proud Ukrainian nationalists.  He is a core figure in the emergence of the key Ukrainian fascist formation, Pravy Sektor and its paramilitary.

And Pravy Sektor’s paramilitary, the UNA-UNSO, is not an “unruly” collection of weekend-warrior-wannabes, as Mr. Higgins might believe.

UNA-UNSO was formed during the turmoil of the early 1990s, largely by ethnic Ukrainian veterans of the Soviet Union’s bitter war in Afghanistan.  From the first, the UNA-UNSO has shown a taste for foreign adventures, sending detachments to Moscow in 1990 to oppose the Communist coup against Yeltsin, and to Lithuania in 1991.  With apparently very good reason, the Russians have also accused UNA-UNSO fighters of participating on the anti-Russian side in Georgia and Chechnya.

After formal Ukrainian independence, the militia elected Yuriy Shukhevych—the son of OUN-B commander Roman Shukhevych– as its leader and set up a political arm, which later became Pravy Sektor. . . .

5. Again, ISIS’ combat prowess is viewed by U.S. special operations forces as probably having stemmed from the Chechen component. Note that, in this story, ISIS is described as having evolved from AQI!

“ISIS an ‘Incredible’ Fighting Force, Special Ops Sources Say” by James Gordon Meek; ABC News; 8/25/2014.

With the Obama White House left reeling from the “savage” slaughter of an American journalist held hostage by ISIS terrorists, military options are being considered against an adversary who officials say is growing in strength and is much more capable than the one faced when the group was called “al Qaeda-Iraq” during the U.S. war from 2003-2011.

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has been making a “tactical withdrawal” in recent days in the face of withering U.S. airstrikes from areas around Erbil in northern Iraq and from the major dam just north of Mosul it controlled for two nail-biting weeks, according to military officials monitoring their movements.

“These guys aren’t just bugging out, they’re tactically withdrawing. Very professional, well trained, motivated and equipped. They operate like a state with a military,” said one official who tracks ISIS closely. “These aren’t the same guys we fought in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) who would just scatter when you dropped a bomb near them.”

ISIS appeared to have a sophisticated and well thought-out plan for establishing its “Islamic Caliphate” from northern Syria across the western and northern deserts of Iraq, many experts and officials have said, and support from hostage-taking, robbery and sympathetic donations to fund it. They use drones to gather overhead intel on targets and effectively commandeer captured military vehicles – including American Humvees — and munitions.

“They tried to push out as far as they thought they could and were fully prepared to pull back a little bit when we beat them back with airstrikes around Erbil. And they were fine with that, and ready to hold all of the ground they have now,” a second official told ABC News.

ISIS didn’t necessarily count on holding Mosul Dam, officials said, but scored a major propaganda victory on social media when they hoisted the black flag of the group over the facility that provides electricity and water to a large swath of Iraq, or could drown millions if breached.

U.S. special operations forces under the Joint Special Operations Command and U.S. Special Operations Command keep close tabs on the military evolution of ISIS and both its combat and terrorism — called “asymmetric” — capabilities, officials told ABC News. A primary reason is in anticipation of possibly fighting them, which a full squadron of special mission unit operators did in the Independence Day raid on an ISIS camp in Raqqah, Syria.

“They’re incredible fighters. ISIS teams in many places use special operations TTPs,” said the second official, who has considerable combat experience, using the military term for “tactics, techniques and procedures.”

In sobering press conference Friday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said ISIS has shown that it is “as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen.”

“They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded,” he said. “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

Prior ISIS’s recent public successes, the former chairman of the 9/11 Commission, which just released a tenth anniversary report on the threat of terrorism currently facing the homeland, said he was shocked at how little seems to be known inside the U.S. intelligence community about the Islamist army brutalizing Iraq as it has Syria.

“I was appalled at the ignorance,” former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, who led the 9/11 Commission, told ABC News last week.

Kean, a Republican, who with vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, recently met with about 20 top intelligence officials in preparation of the commission’s latest threat report, said many officials seemed both blind-sided and alarmed by the group’s rise, growth and competency.

“One official told me ‘I am more scared than at any time since 9/11,’” Kean recounted in a recent interview.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence defended the intelligence community’s tracking of ISIS, saying officials had “expressed concern” about the threat as far back as last year.

“The will to fight is inherently difficult to assess. Analysts must make assessments based on perceptions of command and control, leadership abilities, quality of experience, and discipline under fire — none of which can be understood with certainty until the first shots are fired,” ODNI spokesperson Brian Hale said.

Where did ISIS learn such sophisticated military methods, shown clearly after the first shots were fired?

“Probably the Chechens,” the one of the U.S. officials said.

A Chechen commander named Abu Omar al-Shishani — who officials say may have been killed in fighting near Mosul — is well known for commanding an international brigade within ISIS. Other Chechens have appeared within propaganda videos including one commander who was killed on video by an artillery burst near his SUV in Syria.

Earlier this year, ABC News reported on the secret history of U.S. special operations forces’ experiences battling highly capable Chechen fighters along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border since 2001. In addition, for decades Chechen separatists have waged asymmetric warfare against Russian forces for control of the Northern Caucasus.

The Secret Battles Between US Forces and Chechen Terrorists

In the battle against ISIS, many within American “SOF,” a term that comprises operators from all branches of the military and intelligence, are frustrated at being relegated by the President only to enabling U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. They are eager to fight ISIS more directly in combat operations — even if untethered, meaning unofficially and with little if any U.S. government support, according to some with close ties to the community.

“ISIS and their kind must be destroyed,” said a senior counterterrorism official after journalist James Foley was beheaded on high-definition ISIS video, echoing strong-worded statements of high-level U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry.

6. It should come as no surprise to veteran listeners that ISIS is parking its cash in bitcoin, the latest example of the digital currency being used  for nefarious purposes. In FTR #760, we looked at evidence that Bitcoin may very well have been developed by BND and the Underground Reich.

“ISIS Parks Its Cash in Bit­coin, Experts Say” by Heather Nauert; Fox News; 11/25/2015.

Just days after the hacker group Anony­mous pledged to hunt down Islamic State mem­bers and launch cyber­at­tacks against their accounts, a sep­a­rate group of techies claims it has iden­ti­fied a key fund­ing avenue for the ter­ror net­work – bit­coin accounts.

Ghost Secu­rity Group, a col­lec­tive of com­puter “hack­tivists,” says it has located sev­eral bit­coin accounts that ISIS uses to fund oper­a­tions. One account con­tained $3 mil­lion worth of bit­coin, a Ghost­Sec mem­ber told Michael K. Smith II, a co-founder of Kro­nos Advi­sory, a national secu­rity advi­sory firm.

Ghost­Sec “wants to make an impact in coun­tert­er­ror­ism,” Smith said, adding that the Ghost­Sec mem­ber reached out to him because gov­ern­ment offi­cials were not pay­ing close atten­tion to the allegations.

Smith said U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism offi­cials are con­cerned that ISIS is acquir­ing gold and using numer­ous finan­cial tools, includ­ing bit­coin, to tap into mar­kets. A Trea­sury Depart­ment spokesper­son said the agency couldn’t com­ment on accounts allegedly linked to ter­ror­ists unless the depart­ment has taken pub­lic action.

But bit­coin – an unreg­u­lated form of online cur­rency that cir­cum­vents the tra­di­tional bank­ing sys­tem – is on the government’s radar, since it could serve as an ideal place­holder for ter­ror­ist assets and pro­vide a way for ter­ror­ists to exchange money. The bit­coin web­site, bitcoin.org, describes the ease with which any­one can send and receive vir­tual funds:

“Send­ing bit­coins across bor­ders is as easy as send­ing them across the street. There are no banks to make you wait three busi­ness days, no extra fees for mak­ing an inter­na­tional trans­fer, and no spe­cial lim­i­ta­tions on the min­i­mum or max­i­mum amount you can send.”

Bit­coin is con­sid­ered the first world­wide, decen­tral­ized cur­rency; it can be sent from per­son to per­son with­out the third-party involve­ment of a finan­cial insti­tu­tion. Bit­coin accounts are set up with vir­tual money, but the dig­i­tal funds can be cashed in for real money or goods.

A Ghost­Sec mem­ber said ISIS’ vir­tual cur­rency amounts to between 1 per­cent and 3 per­cent of its total income – between $4.7 mil­lion and $15.6 mil­lion. The Trea­sury Depart­ment esti­mates that ISIS gen­er­ates between $468 mil­lion and $520 mil­lion annu­ally. The ter­ror group’s pri­mary sources of rev­enue are rob­bery, extor­tion, oil sales, ran­som pay­ments and over­seas dona­tions, accord­ing to the Trea­sury Department.

But it doesn’t take a for­tune to pull off a ter­ror attack. Even large-scale attacks can be rel­a­tively inex­pen­sive. The 9/11 Com­mis­sion deter­mined that it cost between $400,000 and $500,000 to plan and carry out the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Ghost­Sec hack­ers insist the alleged ISIS bit­coin account was not linked to the Paris attacks, but they say it shows that ter­ror net­works have found a way to trans­fer assets with­out easy detection.

Related: Sony’s PlaySta­tion 4 could be ter­ror­ists’ com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool, experts warn

“The bit­coin uni­verse is decen­tral­ized by design,” accord­ing to Juniper Research, a firm that iden­ti­fies online mar­ket trends. “They’re built by ran­dom play­ers around the world. They’re trans­ferred seam­lessly via name­less dig­i­tal wallets.”

Cyber­se­cu­rity expert Mor­gan Wright, a senior fel­low at the Cen­ter for Dig­i­tal Gov­ern­ment, a national research and advi­sory insti­tute on infor­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy poli­cies, says ter­ror­ists are increas­ingly uti­liz­ing 21st cen­tury tech­nol­ogy to trans­fer assets and finance operations

“Ter­ror­ists need anonymity,” Wright said. “Coun­tries have got­ten very good at track­ing ter­ror financ­ing in the years since 9/11. Net­works have looked for new ways to do it, and it appears they’ve found it in bitcoin.”

Related: Anony­mous declares ‘war’ on ISIS, vows cyberattacks

Gov­ern­ment offi­cials have become increas­ingly con­cerned about these unreg­u­lated finan­cial sys­tems, and the U.S. is start­ing to apply money laun­der­ing reg­u­la­tions to cyber cur­ren­cies. Firms that issue or exchange bit­coin are required to main­tain records and report trans­ac­tions of more than $10,000.

Indi­vid­ual states, too, are pass­ing laws designed to reg­u­late bit­coin exchanges. New York recently enacted a reg­u­la­tory frame­work, and Cal­i­for­nia will start gov­ern­ing the exchanges next year. “The U.S. gov­ern­ment is work­ing with a broad coali­tion of gov­ern­ments around the world to dis­rupt ISIL’s financ­ing and to sever its access to the inter­na­tional finan­cial sys­tem,” a Trea­sury Depart­ment offi­cial told Fox News.

But few for­eign nations, have spe­cific reg­u­la­tions that gov­ern bit­coin use. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is expected to release reg­u­la­tions by 2017 that would affect Euro­pean Union nations. . . .

7. An interesting footnote to the operations of ISIS, as well as L’Affaire Snowden concerns the use by the Islamic State of a Berlin-based messaging service to broadcast their announcements.

With elements of CIA, as well as overlapping Underground Reich elements backing the Sunni Islamists (al-Qaeda, its Syrian offshoot the Nusra Front and their spawn ISIS) we wonder to what extent the Snowden “op” was intended to run interference for the Earth Island Boogie, now underway from Ukraine to Syria to Iraq to China.

Recall that, when (in the summer of 2009) the Angel of Mercy alighted upon the shoulder of Eddie the Friendly Spook, infusing him with the spirit of human benevolence, he was employed by the CIA.

“Encrypted Messaging Apps Face New Scrutiny over Possible Role in Attacks” by David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth; The New York Times; 11/17/2015; p. A12.

. . . . Even if Apple and others in the United States were compelled to weaken the encryption in their services, American authorities still would have and no judicial authority over Telegram, the Berlin-based messaging service, recently used by Islamic State terrorists to broadcast their communiques. . . .

 

 

 

 

Discussion

11 comments for “FTR #880 The ISIS File: The Myth of the Moderates”

  1. When you’re forced to ask questions like, “will an al Qaeda ally be a peacemaker in [*insert conflict zone here*]?” you really have to hope world peace just suddenly broke out and all groups amid a global wave of peace, prosperity, and democracy. Because otherwise that means there’s a very unfortunate group of people who are about to be officially ruled al Qaeda:

    Foreign Policy
    Will an al Qaeda Ally Be a Peacemaker in Syria?

    World powers are grappling with whether one of Syria’s most successful rebel groups should be invited to peace talks to help build a new government.

    By Colum Lynch, John Hudson
    December 4, 2015

    The success of the Syrian peace talks may hinge on whether a band of Islamist rebels who have fought with al Qaeda will be allowed to join the next round of negotiations, and potentially play a role in a new government, after mounting a PR campaign to cast themselves as moderate militants.

    Saudi Arabia has invited Ahrar al-Sham, along with more than 90 other Syrian opposition representatives, to Riyadh next week in an attempt to unify their message before big-power political talks that are scheduled for Dec. 18 in New York, according to diplomats based at the United Nations who have been briefed on the plans.

    But Russia wants Ahrar al-Sham — which has provided some of the stiffest military resistance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — added to the list of terrorist organizations that are excluded from the peace talks.

    The Islamic State, also known as ISIL, and Syria’s most prominent al Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front, are already designated as terrorist groups by the U.N. Security Council. The United States has stopped short of blocking Ahrar al-Sham from the peace talks but has voiced concerns over its links to al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

    Ahrar al-Sham, also known as the Islamic Movement of the Free Men of Syria, was created in late 2011 by former political prisoners to fight the Assad regime. It is widely considered among the most capable of anti-Assad fighting forces not formally designated as terrorist organizations. Over the years, it has joined forces with the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, al-Nusra Front, and other anti-Assad elements, and is funded by Turkey and Qatar.

    In op-eds earlier this year in the Washington Post and the Telegraph of London, Ahrar al-Sham spokesman Labib al-Nahhas denied his group shares al Qaeda’s extremist ideology. He sought to portray Ahrar al-Sham as a key player in the mainstream opposition in Syria.

    At the same time, the armed group signed up to a coalition — dubbed Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest — that included fighters from al-Nusra Front and other extremist Islamic factions seeking to topple the Syrian regime.

    “They are very tight with al-Nusra,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies.

    Indeed, it was that coalition’s military successes earlier this year — it seized vital, strategic strongholds in Idlib and around Aleppo — that prompted Iran to gird its military support for Assad’s regime. It also set the stage for Russia’s intervention in Syria to avert a collapse of the government.

    The United States has previously expressed concerns about Ahrar al-Sham’s links to al-Nusra Front. But it has never designated the group as a terrorist organization, leaving the door open for possible cooperation in the future. Recently, Washington has been more willing to explore the possibility of a role for Ahrar al-Sham — as long as it backs international efforts to reach a political settlement with the Syrian government, according to diplomats tracking the process.

    “The Americans say anyone who signs on to a cease-fire can be [left off] the terror list,” said one official who is closely involved in the diplomatic process. “Conversely, if you don’t sign onto a cease-fire, you’re fair game.”

    A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to outline the American position on Ahrar al-Sham but said the United States was “mindful that we have more work to do in resolving this issue.”

    While there is broad agreement that the Islamic State will be excluded from political talks, the key international players — including the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — have widely divergent views on which groups should be included. Qatar, for instance, has urged al-Nusra Front to break away from al Qaeda in hopes the group might be given a voice in the political transition.

    Ultimately, the United States seems to be seeking a middle ground on Ahrar al-Sham: While it refuses to embrace the Islamist group, Washington also won’t block it from Western-backed political talks. A Western diplomat said the issue could be resolved if the militant group plays its cards right.

    “We don’t view Ahrar al-Sham as a major sticking point,” the official said. “If Ahrar al-Sham is willing to abide by a political process and negotiations towards transition, then it should not be excluded. Nor should it be a legitimate target.”

    The Riyadh meeting, set to run from Dec. 8 to Dec. 11, is expected to bring together the most diverse collection of Syrian opposition groups to date at one table. It will include the U.S.-backed Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian Free Army, as well as the Russian-supported National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change. Additionally, Jaish al-Islam — a Saudi-financed coalition of more than 40 Salafi and Islamist factions that was created in September 2013 to ramp up the war against the Assad regime — has also been invited.

    Najib Ghadbian, the U.S. representative of the Syrian National Coalition, said the Riyadh meeting marks the largest gathering of Syrian opposition figures since the war began. He hopes the meeting will lead to the creation of a “unified position” by the Syrian opposition on political progress and select a slate of perhaps two dozen candidates to represent the broader group. He also offered support for Ahrar al-Sham’s participation in the meeting.

    While “we don’t have a 100 percent assurance that they will totally disassociate themselves from al Qaeda and become the moderate group we would like them to be, we should give them a chance,” Ghadbian said. “They are fighting the regime, they are a credible force on the ground, and they are Syrian.”

    American and British special envoys are in daily contact with the Saudis and other members of the anti-Islamic State coalition over the issue of Syrian opposition representation, a U.K. diplomat told FP. But Riyadh is taking the lead in bringing together the Syrian opposition.

    “The Saudis have talked for a while about wanting to host and play a role,” the British diplomat said. “Now the situation is ripe.”

    The diplomatic jostling comes weeks before the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other key powers will meet in New York to convene the third round of high-level political talks that began in Vienna earlier this year and ultimately will culminate in presidential elections in Syria. Until now, the Syrian government and opposition groups have been largely excluded from the big-power talks.

    Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, denounced the Saudi drive to unite the opposition groups, saying next week’s meeting in Riyadh “will divert Vienna political efforts on Syria from its natural path and will drive the Vienna talks toward failure,” according to the official IRNA news agency, the Associated Press reported.

    Who is invited to the negotiations known by world powers as the Vienna process — named for the first two rounds of Russian- and U.S.-backed discussions that were held in the Austrian capital — has emerged as a major sticking point. Complicating matters, key regional powers have been throwing financial and military muscle behind an array of competing factions in Syria, where Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia support a variety of Islamist factions.

    Tense relations between Moscow and Ankara have added another layer of complexity since last week’s Turkish shootdown of a Russian warplane along the Syrian-Turkish border. Russian jets are reportedly providing air support to Kurdish military fighters, defying Ankara’s longtime fears and opposition to Kurdish separatist ambitions. Moscow is not the only power helping Kurdish fighters: Seeking to seize territory in northern Syria from the Islamic State, the United States also has supported the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which draws inspiration from Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara and Washington both consider the PKK a terrorist organization.

    But the United States is pressing Ankara to reconsider or at least issue an invitation to another representative from Muslim’s Syria-based political party. Obviously, the Turks have been very clear from “day one” about their opposition to the PYD, said one diplomat involved in the process. “But the Americans have had some tough discussions with the Turks on this. It hasn’t been pleasant.”

    Kurds make up the largest ethnic minority in Syria — about 10 percent of the nation’s overwhelmingly Sunni prewar population of 23 million. Ultimately, U.S. and other Western officials said the list of opposition representatives should be as broad as possible in order to represent all Syrians — including Sunnis, Kurds, Druze, Christians, and Alawites.

    “Big tent is a good way of describing it,” the Western diplomat said. “It shouldn’t be the West defining this. The Syrian opposition of all different types and backgrounds can be represented. The aim is to facilitate and help them come together to represent a free Syria in the negotiations.”

    “Big tent is a good way of describing it”
    Can tents get too big? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you listen to Ankara, the tent isn’t big enough for the various Kurdish factions. Qatar, on the other hand, would like to see some space made under the tent for al-Nusra to squeeze in there. And the US wants the Kurds in there but is also willing to include al-Nusra’s close ally, Ahrar al-Sham, but only as long as the group is “willing to abide by a political process”. In other words, the size of the ‘big tent of negotiations’ is, itself, up to negotiations :


    While there is broad agreement that the Islamic State will be excluded from political talks, the key international players — including the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — have widely divergent views on which groups should be included. Qatar, for instance, has urged al-Nusra Front to break away from al Qaeda in hopes the group might be given a voice in the political transition.

    Ultimately, the United States seems to be seeking a middle ground on Ahrar al-Sham: While it refuses to embrace the Islamist group, Washington also won’t block it from Western-backed political talks. A Western diplomat said the issue could be resolved if the militant group plays its cards right.

    “We don’t view Ahrar al-Sham as a major sticking point,” the official said. “If Ahrar al-Sham is willing to abide by a political process and negotiations towards transition, then it should not be excluded. Nor should it be a legitimate target.

    So will groups like Ahrar al-Sham actually agree to abide by a political process in hammering out a peace deal? Well, they indeed agree to form the new “big tent” body for negotiating a peace settlement, although one faction of Ahrar al-Sham pulled out after complaining that the agreement failed to “confirm the Muslim identity of our people,” while another wing signed the agreement so it appears that Ahrar al-Sham has a bit of an internal political process it’s going to have to deal with on its own.

    But that wasn’t the only angst to emerge from the Islamist parties at the negotiation table and it doesn’t bode well for their willingness to engage in a political process: Islamist delegates objected to using the word “democracy” in the final statement, so the term “democratic mechanism” was used instead:

    The New York Times
    Syrian Rebels Form Bloc for New Round of Peace Talks

    By BEN HUBBARD
    DEC. 10, 2015

    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — An array of Syrian opposition groups agreed here on Thursday to form a new and more inclusive body to guide the diverse and divided opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in a new round of planned talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war.

    The formation of such a body has been seen by the United States and the opposition’s other international supporters as a prerequisite for new talks, and the new body appeared to fit the bill by pulling together political dissidents who have long distrusted one another as well as rebel groups fighting the Syrian Army.

    “This is the widest participation for the opposition, inside and outside of Syria, and we have the participation of the armed groups,” said Hadi al-Bahra, a member of the exiled Syrian National Coalition who attended the two-day conference that produced the new body.

    The agreement in Riyadh, which Secretary of State John Kerry called “an important step forward,” followed a truce between rebels and government forces in part of the strategic city of Homs, which a senior United Nations official said could serve as a building block for a broader cease-fire agreement, so long as the government can hold up its end of the deal as proof that it “cares about its people.”

    The twin developments — the opposition conference in Saudi Arabia and the truce inside Syria — occurred as world leaders prepared to meet in New York in the coming days to discuss possible ways to end a civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people, created millions of refugees and empowered jihadist groups like the Islamic State.

    Yet it remains unclear whether peace talks will even take place, much less succeed. Nearly five years of conflict in Syria have drawn in a range of regional and international powers, with the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others backing the opposition, while Russia and Iran have stood firmly behind Mr. Assad.

    Taking advantage of the chaos, an affiliate of Al Qaeda has gained traction among the rebels while the extremists of the Islamic State have seized stretches of the country for a self-declared caliphate that extends into Iraq.

    The rise of the Islamic State and the waves of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe have accelerated international efforts to end the war, and a new round of international peace talks were proposed at an international meeting last month in Vienna.

    This week’s opposition conference in Riyadh was part of the preparation for those talks.

    In two days of meetings hosted by the Saudi government that ended Thursday, more than 100 opposition leaders created a new high commission to oversee negotiations with the government.

    While previous efforts to unify the opposition failed or remained limited, the Riyadh meeting brought together many parties with differing agendas, some of whom regarded one another as enemies: exile politicians from the Syrian National Coalition; dissidents who have remained inside the country; and representatives from armed groups, including some hard-line Islamists.

    All parties signed a final statement that called for maintaining the unity of Syria and building a civil, representative government that would take charge after a transitional period, at the start of which Mr. Assad and his associates would step down.

    The high commission contains 33 members, about one-third representing armed factions. It will select a negotiating team of 15 people to face the Assad government at talks that could begin in January.

    Participants said issues that have long divided the opposition remained, with fighters dismissing politicians, exiles writing off domestic dissidents and Islamists and seculars not trusting each other’s motives.

    “There were many false accusations against us, but most of our people have been in prison,” said Khalaf al-Dawood, a member of the National Coordination Body, an opposition group that has remained based in Syria.

    He said the new body would counteract claims by Russia and Iran that the opposition was too scattered to uphold an agreement.

    But divisions and obstacles remain.

    Islamist delegates objected to using the word “democracy” in the final statement, so the term “democratic mechanism” was used instead, according to a member of one such group who attended the meeting.

    And one powerful Islamist rebel brigade, Ahrar al-Sham, announced that it was withdrawing from the conference, accusing other delegates of being too close to the Syrian government and saying that conference failed to “confirm the Muslim identity of our people.”

    But Abdulaziz Sager, the Saudi academic who moderated the meetings, said afterward that the representative of the group had not known about the statement and had signed the final agreement anyway — suggesting a split between the group’s political officials and its hard-line base.

    The mere participation of armed factions marked a shift, since many have long shunned politics and refused to negotiate with the government.

    Mohammed Baerakdar, a representative of the Islam Army, one of the armed brigades, said that foreign military support had not been enough to ensure victory so the group had to pursue a political solution.

    “We did not take up arms to spill blood,” he said. “We took up arms to spare blood.”

    “The real test for the government,” Mr. El Hillo said, is whether “it will give civilians a peace dividend,” meaning resuming services and allowing humanitarian access. Such promises have gone unfulfilled in previous cease-fires that failed, leaving behind destroyed ghost towns.

    “This should be taken as an opportunity to show that the state cares about its people,” Mr. El Hillo added, “and not repeat what we have seen.”

    Still, the prospect of a peace deal rests on several parallel diplomatic tracks bearing fruit.

    The talks are to come alongside a cease-fire that the United Nations hopes will cover much of the country, except territories controlled by terrorist groups.

    Jordan is tasked with coming up with a list of groups that are to be designated as terrorists, itself a politically charged enterprise.

    Many opposition groups are considered to be extremist in their ideology. “It’s a very fraught issue,” one United Nations diplomat said.

    Well, let’s hope the “democratic mechanism” the negotiating parties agreed upon actually results in some sort of government that isn’t antithetical to democracy.

    So with all that happening, it will be interesting to see if “moderate” rebel groups like the Free Syrian Army emerge as a sort of compromise group that nearly everyone will be able to unite behind. After all, the Free Syrian Army is still at least quasi-Islamist given its close relationship with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. But it’s also not an overt al Qaeda affiliate which, sadly, makes groups like the Free Syrian Army rather critical players in any sort of negotiations where preventing a take over by an al Qaeda-like group is going to be avoided. At least they might agree to some sort of democratic quasi-secular solution that isn’t a totally Sunni-Islamist dominated government. Hopefully.

    Who knows, maybe some sort of settlement where the non-Islamist groups are given the key Sunni leadership roles in a future secular government is still possible. Or maybe not:

    Stars and Stripes
    US-backed Syrian rebel group on verge of collapse

    By Slobodan Lekic
    Stars and Stripes
    Published: December 13, 2015

    IRBID, Jordan — The main Western-backed Arab rebel group in Syria appears on the verge of collapse because of low morale, desertions, and distrust of its leaders by the rank and file, threatening U.S. efforts to put together a ground force capable of defeating the Islamic State and negotiating an end to the Syrian civil war.

    “After five years of this war the people are just tired … and so are our fighters,” said Jaseen Salabeh, a volunteer in the Free Syrian Army, which was formed in September 2011 by defectors from the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    The Free Syrian Army, or FSA, some of whose members are trained by the Central Intelligence Agency, is the biggest and most secular of the scores of rebel groups fighting the Assad government. Although defeating the Islamic State is the focus of Western attention, the U.S. believes there can be no lasting peace in Syria, and no elimination of the Islamic State there, as long as Assad remains in power.

    In order to deal with both the Islamic State and the future of Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have brokered a plan to bring the Syrian government, which Russia supports, and all “moderate” rebel groups to the negotiating table in Vienna next month. The aim is to build a coalition to wage a counterterrorism campaign against the Islamic State militants and prepare for democratic elections within the next 18 months.

    With an estimated 35,000 fighters, the FSA remains the biggest rebel group and is a key element in the U.S. strategy. Islamic State fighters are believed to number about 30,000 but spread over a wider area of both Syria and Iraq.

    If the FSA can’t be relied on as a strong partner, however, the U.S. and its Western partners would have to turn to an assortment of smaller hardline Islamic militias — backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar — that the West fears are too militant to reconcile with the secular government. Kurdish rebels, known as the YPG, have fought well in Kurdish areas but are not considered a viable option in Arab parts of the country.

    Unlike the Islamic State and other more extremist groups, however, the FSA has failed to achieve any significant victories or create a “liberated” zone of its own. On many occasions, its former fighters say, FSA units have cooperated closely with the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, which is strong in the north and shares the same battlespace as the FSA in southern Syria.

    “The lack of battlefield success has mitigated against them,” Ed Blanche, a Beirut-based member of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies and an expert on Middle Eastern wars, said of the FSA. “They haven’t been getting significant (outside) support because they haven’t been showing results.”

    Among other problems, Salabeh and others say, FSA fighters are losing faith in their own leaders.

    “They regularly steal our salaries,” said Salabeh, who came to this city in northern Jordan after being wounded in battle and now intends to stay here. “We’re supposed to get $400 a month, but we only actually receive $100.”

    He also complained of lack of support for those killed or wounded in battle. Fighters who lost legs in the fighting were reduced to begging inside the massive refugee camps in northern Jordan.

    “If somebody is wounded, they just dump him in Jordan and abandon him,” he said. “Widows of martyred fighters also receive nothing after their deaths.”

    As a result, many FSA men in southern Syria were abandoning the group, usually leaving for Jordan or joining the estimated 15,000-strong Nusra Front, according to Saleh and other Syrians interviewed in northern Jordan. By contrast, the Nusra Front reportedly pays its fighters $1,000 a month and cares for its wounded members, paying their medical bills and providing for the families of those killed in combat.

    The situation has gotten so bad, Salabeh said, that some FSA fighters are questioning the reason for continuing the conflict. He said a growing number believe the time has come for a ceasefire even it means cooperating with Assad.

    “After all, Bashar isn’t all that bad,” Salabeh said.

    Karim Jamal Sobeihi, a refugee from southern Syria and a self-described FSA supporter, said the opposition’s main problem was that various groups owed their allegiance to foreign governments that provide the money and, therefore, the rebels cannot agree on unified positions. This included the FSA, which itself consists of many different factions, he said. That made the radicals — with their Islamist ideology and independent streak — more attractive to those willing to fight the regime, he said.

    Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese general and military analyst, said the international focus on fighting the Islamic State rather than ousting Assad indicates the West and its Arab allies recognize that Assad cannot be overthrown by military means — especially after Russia’s intervention on the Syrian president’s behalf.

    This has in turn demoralized FSA troops, Jaber told Stars and Stripes during an interview in Beirut. He said FSA units in both the north and south were cooperating more closely with the better-organized and better-funded Nusra Front, regardless of its al-Qaida connections.

    “In contrast, Nusra is winning the hearts and minds of the people, and positioning themselves as moderates despite their al-Qaida links,” said Elias Hanna, a former Lebanese general and professor of geopolitics at the American University of Beirut.

    Ok so…

    If the FSA can’t be relied on as a strong partner, however, the U.S. and its Western partners would have to turn to an assortment of smaller hardline Islamic militias — backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar — that the West fears are too militant to reconcile with the secular government. Kurdish rebels, known as the YPG, have fought well in Kurdish areas but are not considered a viable option in Arab parts of the country.

    Karim Jamal Sobeihi, a refugee from southern Syria and a self-described FSA supporter, said the opposition’s main problem was that various groups owed their allegiance to foreign governments that provide the money and, therefore, the rebels cannot agree on unified positions. This included the FSA, which itself consists of many different factions, he said. That made the radicals — with their Islamist ideology and independent streak — more attractive to those willing to fight the regime, he said.

    “In contrast, Nusra is winning the hearts and minds of the people, and positioning themselves as moderates despite their al-Qaida links,” said Elias Hanna, a former Lebanese general and professor of geopolitics at the American University of Beirut.

    “Karim Jamal Sobeihi, a refugee from southern Syria and a self-described FSA supporter, said the opposition’s main problem was that various groups owed their allegiance to foreign governments that provide the money and, therefore, the rebels cannot agree on unified positions.”
    Yep, the allegiance of so many rebel groups to foreign governments with a predilection for sponsoring militant anti-democratic extremists is definitely a peace process problem.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 14, 2015, 4:04 pm
  2. Oh look. A new giant ‘anti-extremism’ military coalition was just announced. Maybe. It’s actually unclear what’s been announced:

    The Wall Street Journal
    Saudi Arabia Forms Muslim Anti-Terror Coalition
    The 34-member bloc will fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, deputy crown prince says

    By Ahmed Al Omran in Riyadh and Asa Fitch in Dubai

    Dec. 15, 2015 9:59 a.m. ET

    Saudi Arabia’s plan to form a Muslim antiterrorism coalition has underlined a new muscular foreign policy aimed at confronting the extremist group Islamic State, even at the risk of wading deeper into the region’s messiest conflicts.

    Calling terrorism a “disease which affected the Islamic world first before the international community as a whole,” Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Tuesday the coalition of 34 Muslim states would fight the scourge in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

    Besides the 34 Muslim nations who signed up to the coalition, Riyadh said more than 10 other countries, including Indonesia, expressed their support of the new bloc. The kingdom’s main rival Iran, however, was absent from the list.

    The formation of the coalition followed criticism from U.S. and European politicians that Saudi Arabia hasn’t done enough to fight Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Islamic State militants took over large swaths of Iraq and Syria last year and are the focus of the U.S.-led air campaign in which Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries are participating.

    Some Saudis believe the time has come to show the government is serious about fighting Islamic State, a Sunni militant group that has roots in its own region and religion.

    Islamic State “is the seed of evil that we have let out of the can in the Middle East,” Prince Turki Al Faisal, chairman of King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, told the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai. “It’s our responsibility to vanquish it.”

    But it is also unclear what Saudi Arabia is asking the other countries to do—whether it is a loose grouping to talk strategy and share intelligence or the first step to establishing an actual fighting force.

    The new Saudi-led coalition will have a joint command center in Riyadh to “coordinate” and develop means to fight terrorism militarily and ideologically, Prince Mohammed told a hastily called news conference at a Riyadh air base early Tuesday morning.

    Some countries that were listed as members expressed willingness to review such a proposal but didn’t appear to make any formal commitment to a military coalition.

    Turkey, the only country in the alliance that is also a NATO member, welcomed the new coalition. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday that “the best response to those striving to associate terrorism and Islam is for nations of Islam to present a unified voice against terrorism”

    Meanwhile, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad Momani said the war against terrorism was “our war and the Muslims’ war,” according to a statement carried by the official Petra news agency.

    William Hague, a former U.K. foreign secretary, told the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai on Tuesday that more Arab involvement was needed to combat Islamic State and counter the extremist narrative that it was at war with the West. Making it effective required coordination, however, he said.

    “To make something like NATO, you really have to decide to act together…to send people to act and die in another country,” Mr. Hague said.

    For Riyadh, the risks of such aggressive military action on a broad scale have become apparent in Yemen.

    Christopher Davidson, a professor at Durham University in the U.K. who specializes in Gulf affairs, said the new alliance was primarily a way for Saudi Arabia to generate positive news about its role in international affairs following recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Both of the assailants in the California attack had spent time in the kingdom.

    Yet divisions within the participating countries of the Islamic coalition don’t bode well for its effectiveness, he said.

    “The constituent members of the new coalition mostly fall on the Sunni side of the sectarian fault-line and are themselves deeply divided on a number of key policy areas,” Mr. Davidson said.

    “The probability that it can become an effective international security alliance is therefore almost zero.”

    Sounds exciting:


    Christopher Davidson, a professor at Durham University in the U.K. who specializes in Gulf affairs, said the new alliance was primarily a way for Saudi Arabia to generate positive news about its role in international affairs following recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Both of the assailants in the California attack had spent time in the kingdom.

    Yet divisions within the participating countries of the Islamic coalition don’t bode well for its effectiveness, he said.

    “The constituent members of the new coalition mostly fall on the Sunni side of the sectarian fault-line and are themselves deeply divided on a number of key policy areas,” Mr. Davidson said.

    “The probability that it can become an effective international security alliance is therefore almost zero.”

    That doesn’t sound like we’re on the verge of seeing a ground-force coalition to be used against ISIS. And considering that Saudi Arabia’s government is like a much larger version of ISIS ‘that made it’ and a top supporter of an array of Islamist extremist organizations operating in Syria, the formation of an anti-extremism army, as opposed to an explicitly anti-ISIS army, would be a bit surprising anyway. And according to an anonymous senior US defense official, the announcement of this new Islamist army against Islamist extremism was indeed pretty surprising to US defense officials since they had no indication that such an announcement was going to take place:

    The Associated Press
    The Latest: Saudi FM details new alliance

    December 15 at 10:33 AM

    MOSCOW — The latest news on developments in the Syrian conflict. All times local:

    6:20 p.m.

    Saudi Arabia says a new Islamic military alliance would consider requests for assistance from members on a “case-by-case basis.”

    Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris on Tuesday that “there is no limit in terms of where the assistance would be provided, or to whom it would be provided.”

    Saudi Arabia announced the 34-nation alliance earlier in the day, saying it would unify efforts to fight terrorism across the Muslim world.

    The alliance does not include Shiite-majority Iran or Iraq, both of which are battling the Islamic State group. It also leaves out Syria, a key ally of Tehran. Saudi Arabia and Iran are regional rivals that back opposite sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

    5:30 p.m.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he is looking forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind for the creation of a new 34-nation counterterrorism alliance based in Riyadh.

    Carter told reporters on Tuesday during a visit to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, that he would like to talk to the Saudis and learn more specifics of the plan.

    “In general, at least, it appears that it’s very much aligned with something that we’ve been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat ISIL by Sunni Arab countries,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

    A senior defense official said the U.S. did not know in advance about the formation of an Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism, but officials were working to find out the details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

    —Lolita C. Baldor in Incirlik Air Base, Turkey

    “A senior defense official said the U.S. did not know in advance about the formation of an Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism, but officials were working to find out the details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.”

    So the patron saints of Islamic extremism made a surprise announcement about a new military coalition to fight Islamic extremism. Ok then.

    In other surprising news, it turns out the world is indeed flat. Or at least each of its six sides are flat.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 15, 2015, 10:07 am
  3. A very big fight for the heart of ISIS in Iraq is getting underway in Mosul. But as the article below points out, it won’t be a short:

    The New York Times
    After Gains Against ISIS, Pentagon Focuses on Mosul

    By HELENE COOPER and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
    FEB. 29, 2016

    WASHINGTON — Recent gains against the Islamic State in eastern Syria have helped sever critical supply lines to Iraq and set the stage for what will be the biggest fight yet against the Sunni militancy, the battle to retake Mosul, Pentagon officials said on Monday.

    Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference that American-backed forces had begun laying the groundwork for the fight by moving to isolate Mosul from the Islamic State’s de facto headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. Kurdish and Arab forces retook the town of Shaddadi in eastern Syria last week, cutting off what Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter called the last major artery between Raqqa and Mosul.

    But military officials cautioned that the fight for Mosul could last many months, requiring Iraqi forces unproven in urban warfare to advance street by street through the explosives-laden terrain of Iraq’s second-largest city, with more than one million people.

    In addition to the advances in eastern Syria, the Pentagon has begun using cyberattacks on Islamic State communications between Raqqa and Mosul, as well as attacks meant to disrupt the militant group’s ability to use social media to recruit fighters, officials said.

    Retaking Mosul would be a “massive hit” to the Islamic State, said Patrick Martin, an Iraq expert at the Institute for the Study of War. Such a loss would bolster claims by the American-led coalition that the Sunni militancy is on the run in Iraq. It could also sharply demoralize Islamic State fighters, raising questions about whether the group could still credibly call itself a caliphate.

    The Pentagon has declined to predict when Iraqi troops will try to enter Mosul, though General Dunford said on Monday that “it is not something that will happen in the deep, deep future.” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq said two weeks ago that Iraqi forces would start a full military operation to retake the city as early as March, and an American military official said over the weekend that the Pentagon believed that Iraqi troops were ready to launch a credible assault.

    Still, military officials acknowledge that the battle will be an uphill slog. “Do I think it’s going to be easy? No,” Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke, the commander of American land forces in Iraq, told reporters during a briefing last week. “It’s going to be tough.”

    The long fight by Iraqi security forces to take back Ramadi from the Islamic State, which concluded in December, offers a preview of the battle to come over Mosul. Advancing inch by inch, Iraqi forces, backed by American airstrikes, took more than five months to gain control of the city center of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

    As difficult as that battle was, the fight for Mosul will be much harder, military officials say. The city is five times as large as Ramadi. And while the Iraqi military used two American-trained brigades in the Ramadi fight — the 73rd and the 76th, which General Clarke said were believed to be the best in the Iraqi Army — those forces number some 8,000, far short of the 30,000 troops Pentagon officials say are needed.

    Military officials also say it is hard to imagine how the fight for Mosul can be waged without close American air support, which would probably require American attack helicopters, something Mr. Abadi, for political reasons, has yet to agree to.

    The effort is likely to include Kurdish pesh merga fighters, Pentagon officials say. The American military has trained some 16,000 Kurdish fighters, but their participation is likely to come with its own problems. “I do think the expectation is that the force will be heavily Kurdish, but then you get into the political issues,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    Mr. Abadi’s government is unlikely to want the Kurdish fighters to assume the lead role in the coming fight, a role that Iraq experts say is likely to be filled by the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces.

    In 2004, it took more than 13,000 highly trained troops, primarily Americans, almost two months to retake and clear Falluja of about 3,000 insurgents in the fiercest fight of the Iraq war. Ninety-five American service members died, and more than 560 were wounded.

    The battle for Mosul, many military experts say, could be much worse. Pentagon officials say they are unsure how many Islamic State militants are in the city, but they have been there for almost two years.

    “When the coalition cleared Falluja, it took forever, and Mosul is larger than Falluja,” Mr. Martin, the Iraq expert, said. “And the people who will be doing the clearing are not U.S. troops.”

    General Kinani said the Iraqi military was working with Sunni tribes in Mosul against the Islamic State. The tribes, he said, “are giving information about those locations that are planted with explosive materials and I.E.D.s, and also they talk about the morale and the status of the ISIS fighters inside the city.”

    “The long fight by Iraqi security forces to take back Ramadi from the Islamic State, which concluded in December, offers a preview of the battle to come over Mosul. Advancing inch by inch, Iraqi forces, backed by American airstrikes, took more than five months to gain control of the city center of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.”
    So that’s about to happen in Mosul. A very long, brutal fight. As ominous as that sounds, here’s a very big reason why it’s actually a lot more ominous:

    ABC News
    ‘Catastrophic’: US Raises Alarm Over Perilous Mosul Dam

    By Kirit Radia
    Lee Ferran

    Mar 9, 2016, 5:23 PM ET

    The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations today left a “chilling” briefing about the danger posed by Iraq’s Mosul Dam and called on the international community to realize the “magnitude of the problem and the importance of readiness to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.”

    The briefing from geotechnical experts said the dam, already described nearly a decade ago as the “most dangerous dam in the world,” now faces a “serious and unprecedented risk of catastrophic failure with little warning.”

    The Mosul Dam lies approximately 30 miles north of Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and has been a danger ever since it was constructed in the mid-1980s on unstable foundation. But officials fear that in recent years the problem has gotten much worse as the terror group ISIS was able to temporarily take control of the dam and may have interfered with the constant, massive grouting operation that is necessary to keep the dam functional — though an Iraqi official told ABC News in 2014 that the work continued, even under ISIS control.

    In a worst case scenario, should the dam breach, it could send a flood wave several stories high into Mosul and inundate cities with devastating effect as far down the Tigris as Baghdad, more than 200 miles away, according to a 2007 warning letter from top U.S. officials to the Iraqi government and contemporary estimates by experts.

    “While important steps have been taken to address a potential breach, the dam could still fail,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said today in a written statement. “In the event of a breach, there is the potential in some places for a flood wave up to 14 meters [46 feet] high that could sweep up everything in its path, including people, cars, unexploded ordnance, waste and other hazardous material, further endangering massive population centers that lie in the flood path… We all must intensify our efforts to ensure that urgently-needed repair work is undertaken as soon as possible and that people across Iraq understand the risks and the best evacuation routes.”

    The day after the security message was sent out, an Italian company, Trevi, announced that it had agreed to intervene and fix the dam for $300 million, but it won’t be easy.

    “These are huge and very sophisticated repairs. It’s not like going to Home Depot and grabbing some paint and caulk,” a geotechnical expert, who previously worked on the dam, told ABC News.

    The expert said he foresaw a few months before meaningful repairs would begin. In the meantime, as to when the dam could fail, he said, it “could be tomorrow, could be next week, could be 10 years-time.”

    “The expert said he foresaw a few months before meaningful repairs would begin. In the meantime, as to when the dam could fail, he said, it “could be tomorrow, could be next week, could be 10 years-time.””

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 11, 2016, 6:55 pm
  4. A very informative article on this topic was published by Voltaire Network by Eman Nabih:

    https://www.voltairenet.org/article191278.html

    It concludes:
    ​US ​started military strikes against ISIS in Iraq, just to protect US interests in Iraq. US wanted to remove Assad regime in Syria by financing and supporting terrorists like ISIS, instead of fighting them. Moreover, US is still supporting Muslim Brotherhood terrorists organization, as long as they don’t announce Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group”.

    The US thought that supporting Muslim Brotherhood fascist regime in Egypt, will enable the Muslim brotherhood to have control on all other terrorist groups, and it was ok for the US that terrorists divide the middle east to Islamic emirates, and force their own Sharia laws provisions on the majority and the minority, as long as they will become allies to the US instead of being enemies.

    Some other interesting passages include:
    Muslim Brotherhood are the parent of all terrorist groups, including ISIS. Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood sought to restore worldwide Islamic Caliphate. Since his childhood, Albanna was attracted to extremists who were hostile to Western culture and to its system of rights, particularly women’s rights.

    Al-Banna spelled out his ideas in a major document titled “The Way of Jihad.”

    Under Al-Banna’s stewardship, the Brotherhood developed a network of underground cells, stole weapons, trained fighters, formed secret assassination squads, founded sleeper cells of subversive supporters in the ranks of the army and police, and waited for the order to go public with terrorism, assassinations, and suicide missions.

    It was during this time that the Brotherhood found a soulmate in Nazi Germany. The Reich offered great power connections to the movement, but the relationship brokered by the Brotherhood was more than a marriage of convenience. Both movements sought world conquest and domination and both movements committed crimes against humanity.

    On 27 January 2016, Al-Bawaba News published names of 30 Muslim brotherhood elements, who joined terrorist camps in Libya and are trained to commit suicidal attacks in Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood joined ISIS and Al-Qaeda terrorist camps in Eastern Libya, during the last 6 month and are trained on using weapons, making explosives and car bombs.

    Al-Bawaba News revealed 30 names out of 100 from the Muslim brotherhood organization, who joined terrorist camps in Libya and Syria, like ISIS and Al-Qaeda and especially the terrorist group called “Al-Morabetoun Al-Godod” a terrorist branch of Al-Qaeda organization in Libya, to prepare the MB elements to carry out suicidal attacks in Egypt.

    In Bahrain, during the year of 2012, Nasser Al-Fadallah one of the Muslim Brotherhood top leaders, made a speech in front of the US Embassy in Manama, protested against the abusing movie of Prophet Mohamed, when masked men appeared behind Fadallah raised the black flags of ISIS. At this time, no one understood the purpose or the symbol of raising these flags, till ISIS raised the same flag after they appeared in Syria and Iraq.

    On 18/6/2014, The Egyptian ministry of Interior arrested Mamdouh Mohamed Hassan, Muslim Brotherhood member worked in the Egyptian ministry of education, who was involved in violence incitement and participated in attacking police forces during Muslim Brotherhood armed and violent protests. Investigators revealed that he had maps and papers that indicated the ties between ISIS and Muslim Brotherhood to commit terror attacks in different parts of Egypt.

    SIS managed to recruit many of Muslim Brotherhood youth through social networks. Like Muslim Brotherhood jihad movements in Egypt: Molotov, Ahrar and Islamic Jihad in Egypt. All these Muslim Brotherhood movements in Egypt pledged loyalty to ISIS.

    Sabra Alqassemy, former Jihadist in Egypt gave up violence some time ago, and provided earlier information and details which led to the arrest of the first ISIS cell in Sharqia city. He confirmed that ISIS ideology exists in Egypt since Muslim Brotherhood have reached power, and the followers and supporters of ISIS got the blessings from Mohamed Morsi. The armed forces war against terrorism in Sinai, forced terrorists to escape to upper Egypt and hide in the mountains areas.

    Nabil Naim, former leader of Jihadists group in Egypt, gave up violence and now he is fighting terrorism, and Dr. Samir Ghattas, director of Strategic studies in the middle east center, confirmed that there is an Egyptian man called Abu Hamza Almasry, he is the link between Muslim Brotherhood youth jihadi movements in Egypt and ISIS leader Abu Bakr Alboghdady. They added that after the 30th of June revolution that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood fascist regime in Egypt, MB found in ISIS the last hope to get back to power, especially after what ISIS is achieving in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

    On 13/8/2014, Vetogate newspaper published a report about unannounced visit by one of Muslim Brotherhood top leaders to Iraq with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the leader of ISIS [10]. Muslim Brotherhood offered ISIS all kinds of support including financing, in addition to MB mediation and guarantee that the US is not going to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs, and won’t launch any military strikes against ISIS in Iraq.
    Muslim Brotherhood also offered to facilitate the entry of ISIS elements to the Egyptian territory, through the western and southern borders of Egypt, In return of ISIS helping Muslim Brotherhood to reach power again in Egypt till they control all country’s joints.

    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the leader of ISIS refused the Muslim Brothers offer including the financial support to ISIS, but showed his agreement to make a deal with Muslim Brotherhood to help them reaching power again in Egypt, provided that Muslim Brotherhood pledge loyalty to him as the grand Caliph of Muslims (the head of Muslims states), and ISIS to become partners to Muslim Brotherhood in ruling Egypt. The report revealed that Muslim Brothers totally refused al-Baghdadi‘s deal.

    Despite that ISIS is formed of about fifteen thousand militant and seized many arms and ammunition and is controlling some of the oil fields in Iraq, and they managed to control the central bank in Musul, after they seized about 429 million Dollar; A bunch of mercenaries like ISIS cannot win any battle against countries, people and well equipped and qualified armies in the world, but we cannot underestimate the big threat and danger these terrorists are representing, if they manage to have full control on just one Arab country, like Iraq, Libya or Syria.

    Iraq and Libya in particular, are easy targets for ISIS, After US invaded Iraq based on a barefaced lie of WMD, and US deliberately dispersed The Iraqi Army and Police forces, same thing happened in Libya after the invasion too. What makes things worse, is also that Libya and Iraq are formed of different tribes and multiple doctrines, this is another dangerous issue that make people’s unity against terrorism, is almost impossible, because they are not united, on the opposite, they are fighting each other since the invasion and they do have religious and doctrines conflicts.

    Posted by Anonymous | May 9, 2016, 6:35 am
  5. 51 State Department diplomats signed an internal “dissent channel” memo criticizing the Obama administration over its Syria policy. It’s an unusually large number of diplomats to sign a dissent channel memo. It’s also unusual for a dissent memo in that it’s calling for more, not less, military action. For peace:

    The New York Times

    51 U.S. Diplomats Urge Strikes Against Assad in Syria

    By MARK LANDLER
    JUNE 16, 2016

    WASHINGTON — More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.

    The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

    Such a step would represent a radical shift in the administration’s approach to the civil war in Syria, and there is little evidence that President Obama has plans to change course. Mr. Obama has emphasized the military campaign against the Islamic State over efforts to dislodge Mr. Assad. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, have all but collapsed.

    But the memo, filed in the State Department’s “dissent channel,” underscores the deep rifts and lingering frustration within the administration over how to deal with a war that has killed more than 400,000 people.

    The State Department set up the channel during the Vietnam War as a way for employees who had disagreements with policies to register their protest with the secretary of state and other top officials, without fear of reprisal. While dissent cables are not that unusual, the number of signatures on this document, 51, is extremely large, if not unprecedented.

    The names on the memo are almost all midlevel officials — many of them career diplomats — who have been involved in the administration’s Syria policy over the last five years, at home or abroad. They range from a Syria desk officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to a former deputy to the American ambassador in Damascus.

    While there are no widely recognized names, higher-level State Department officials are known to share their concerns. Mr. Kerry himself has pushed for stronger American action against Syria, in part to force a diplomatic solution on Mr. Assad. The president has resisted such pressure, and has been backed up by his military commanders, who have raised questions about what would happen in the event that Mr. Assad was forced from power — a scenario that the draft memo does not address.

    The State Department spokesman, John Kirby, declined to comment on the memo, which top officials had just received. But he said Mr. Kerry respected the process as a way for employees “to express policy views candidly and privately to senior leadership.”

    Robert S. Ford, a former ambassador to Syria, said, “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government.”

    Mr. Ford, who is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, resigned from the Foreign Service in 2014 out of frustration with the administration’s hands-off policy toward the conflict.

    In the memo, the State Department officials wrote that the Assad government’s continuing violations of the partial cease-fire, known as a cessation of hostilities, will doom efforts to broker a political settlement because Mr. Assad will feel no pressure to negotiate with the moderate opposition or other factions fighting him. The government’s barrel bombing of civilians, it said, is the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.”

    “The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable,” it said. “The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges.”

    The memo acknowledged that military action would have risks, not the least further tensions with Russia, which has intervened in the war on Mr. Assad’s behalf and helped negotiate a cease-fire. Those tensions increased on Thursday when, according to a senior Pentagon official, Russia conducted airstrikes in southern Syria against American-backed forces fighting the Islamic State.

    The State Department officials insisted in their memo that they were not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia,” but rather a credible threat of military action to keep Mr. Assad in line.

    Once that threat was in place, the memo said, Mr. Kerry could undertake a diplomatic mission similar to the one he led with Iran on its nuclear program.

    The expression of dissent came a week after Mr. Assad showed renewed defiance of the United States and other countries, vowing to retake “every inch” of his country from his enemies. The cease-fire, which Mr. Kerry helped negotiate in Munich last winter, has never really taken hold. Mr. Assad has continued to block humanitarian convoys, despite a warning that the United Nations would begin airdrops of food to starving towns.

    “There is an enormous frustration in the bureaucracy about Syria policy,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy. “What’s brought this to a head now is the real downturn in the negotiations, not just between the U.S. and Russia, but between Assad and the opposition.”

    Last month, Mr. Kerry rejected the suggestion that the United States and its allies would never use force to stop the bombings or enforce humanitarian access. “If President Assad has come to a conclusion there’s no Plan B,” he said, “then he’s come to a conclusion that is totally without any foundation whatsoever and even dangerous.”

    Still, Mr. Obama has shown little sign of shifting his focus from the campaign against the Islamic State — a strategy that probably acquired even more urgency after the mass shooting Sunday in Orlando, Fla.

    In the memo, the State Department officials argued that military action against Mr. Assad would help the fight against the Islamic State because it would bolster moderate Sunnis, who are necessary allies against the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

    In this case, the memo mainly confirms what has been clear for some time: The State Department’s rank and file have chafed at the White House’s refusal to be drawn into the conflict in Syria.

    During a debate in June 2013, after the Assad government had used chemical weapons against its own people, Mr. Kerry brandished a State Department report that argued that the United States needed to respond militarily or Mr. Assad would view it as “green light for continued CW use.”

    Three years later, the sense of urgency at the State Department has not diminished. The memo concludes, “It is time that the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict once and for all.”

    “Three years later, the sense of urgency at the State Department has not diminished. The memo concludes, “It is time that the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict once and for all.””
    That’s right, the State Department’s “dissent channel” memo is calling for US military strikes against Assad as part of a global effort to “put an end to this conflict once and for all.” And yet, curiously, what that “end” would look like remains unaddressed:


    While there are no widely recognized names, higher-level State Department officials are known to share their concerns. Mr. Kerry himself has pushed for stronger American action against Syria, in part to force a diplomatic solution on Mr. Assad. The president has resisted such pressure, and has been backed up by his military commanders, who have raised questions about what would happen in the event that Mr. Assad was forced from power — a scenario that the draft memo does not address.

    Huh. The actual peace scenarios, and what role the Islamist radicals and al Qaeda affiliates who comprise the most lethal element of the existing non-ISIS Syrian rebel forces, appear to be yet-to-be-worked-out details. And yet it does appear to be the case that these diplomats don’t just expect the Assad government to negotiate with the moderate rebels in some sort of final peace settlement. The “other factions fight him” are also supposed to be part of the negotiations:

    In the memo, the State Department officials wrote that the Assad government’s continuing violations of the partial cease-fire, known as a cessation of hostilities, will doom efforts to broker a political settlement because Mr. Assad will feel no pressure to negotiate with the moderate opposition or other factions fighting him. The government’s barrel bombing of civilians, it said, is the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.”

    Now, keep in mind that there are “other factions” that aren’t groups like al Nusra and the various other hard core Islamists groups who really do have a very valid place at any peace settlement talks. Any meaningful peace settlement wouldn’t make sense if it doesn’t include the Kurd rebels backed by the Pentagon. But at the same time, any meaningful peace settlement wouldn’t make sense if it does include the CIA’s back hardcore jihadists hell bent on creating a Sunni-supremacist theocracy. The only “peace” that can come from that scenario only happens happens after the jihadists finish slaughtering everyone who doesn’t join their cult and the New Syria becomes a somewhat different version of what ISIS has already created.

    So when form Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford says, “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government,” it would probably be a good idea for those many frustrated State Department officials to make it completely clear that the the envisioned peace settlement that they’re advocating the US bomb Assad into agreeing to doesn’t include the many militant extremist rebel groups that are best positioned to be the military power in a post-Assad Syria and have nothing but slaughter of the non-Islamists in mind and the full backing of the Sunni regional powers:

    The Independent

    Syrian civil war: Jabhat al-Nusra’s massacre of Druze villagers shows they’re just as nasty as Isis

    The incident last week suggests that the US have let the al-Qaeda affiliate off lightly

    Patrick Cockburn
    Saturday 13 June 2015

    Last week fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, entered a village in Idlib province in the north-west of the country and shot dead at least 20 villagers from the Druze community. They had earlier forcibly converted hundreds of Druze to their fundamentalist variant of Sunni Islam.

    It was just one more massacre in a land that has seen thousands of atrocities by government and rebels over the past four years. But what gives the Qalb Lawzeh killings peculiar significance is that they happened at a moment when Nusra, and the rebel coalition it leads, had inflicted a series of defeats on the Syrian army in the north, leading to speculation that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad might be starting to crumble under multiple pressures. It has recently lost Idlib province in the north, Palmyra in the east, and is on the retreat in the south.

    A reason why Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, another hard-line jihadi group, were able to break the military stalemate is the greater support they are getting from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Since succeeding to the throne in January, Saudi King Salman, along with other Sunni leaders, has pursued a more aggressive policy in backing extreme jihadi rebels in Syria.

    Alongside this military offensive is an effort by Nusra and its supporters to rebrand itself as a completely different and more moderate entity than Islamic State (Isis). This is not easy to do. Nusra was created by Isis in 2012 and split from it in 2013, since when the two movements have been fierce rivals who share the same fanatical beliefs and hatreds. The US regards both as terrorist organisations and periodically bombs Nusra, though not with the same intensity as it attacks Isis. The Saudis and the others are not looking for the US to end its hostility to Nusra, but they do want Washington to continue to turn a blind eye to support for it from America’s main Sunni allies.

    The rebranding of Nusra is being energetically pursued. A dramatic if somewhat ludicrous episode in this campaign was a 47-minute interview with Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the leader of al-Nusra, broadcast by Al Jazeera television network on 27 May. Golani was to demonstrate to a Syrian and international audience how much more reasonable and less murderous his organisation was compared with Isis when it came to Syria’s minorities and to stress that it would not be launching terrorist operations against western targets.

    The interview did not entirely succeed in conveying a comforting sense of restraint and moderation. This is not because Golani came under much pressure from the sympathetic Al Jazeera interviewer. “It was not Frost/Nixon, more like a high-school date,” says the Syria expert Aron Lund, editor of Syria in Crisis, in the online newsletter Syria Comment. The softball approach, he says, “may well have been intentional. Many assume that Qatar, which owns and controls Al Jazeera, is eager to see the group show its gentler side, now that it and other rebels are capturing territory in north-western Syria.”

    Golani expressed his new-found moderation by saying that it would be safe for a member of the Allawite sect – to which President Assad and much of Syria’s ruling elite belong – to surrender to Nusra fighters “even if he killed a thousand of us”. But any Allawite considering taking advantage of Golami’s kind offer must meet certain conditions. They must not only stop supporting Assad, but they must convert to Nusra’s brand of extreme Sunni Islam or, in other words, stop being Allawites. Christians will be given a grace period before they have to start pay jizya, a special tax, and Golani takes for granted that Sharia will be implemented. “The basics remain the same,” says Lund, “and they’re extreme enough to be borderline genocidal even when sugar-coated by Al Jazeera.”

    What gives this interview such significance is that Golani leads a movement which might, if the Assad regime falls, form part of Syria’s next government. Assad’s military opposition is dominated by Isis in the east, holding half the country, and Nusra, leading a coalition of al-Qaeda type jihadis in the north and centre.

    “We have to deal with reality as it is,” said Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria in an interview with Hannah Allam of McClatchy news service earlier this year. “The people we have backed [moderate Syrian rebels] have not been strong enough to hold their ground against the Nusra Front.”

    What made Mr Ford’s assertion that Nusra dominated the non-Isis armed opposition so shocking for many was that he was the man who had resigned from the US government, accusing it of not giving enough support to the moderate rebels. Not so long ago he had been maintaining that the moderates were still a real force. But now Mr Ford was quoted as complaining that the rebels, as well as their patrons in Turkey and Qatar, were legitimising Nusra as an integral part of the anti-Assad opposition when, in reality, it was the same as Isis. “Nusra Front is just as dangerous, and yet they keep pretending they’re nice guys, they’re Syrians,” he said. Another problem was that weapons supplied by the US to more moderate groups were ending up in the hands of Nusra.

    It is not just that Nusra is sectarian, violent and true to its al-Qaeda roots. Its presence at the heart of the armed opposition gives the rebels greater military strength, but politically it is a tremendous liability.

    Mr Ford defends the moderates, saying that their alliance with Nusra is only tactical and the result of their weakness and disunity. But in a further interview with Middle East Monitor, Mr Ford makes an important point, warning that “with this cooperation [between moderates and Nusra], they have made it impossible to get a negotiated political deal, because the people in the regime who do not like Assad, and there are lots who don’t like Assad, look at the opposition and say we cannot negotiate with an opposition that supports Nusra”.

    The presence of Nusra prevents any chance of a negotiated settlement, but will not be enough to win an outright military victory. Syria is being torn apart by a genuine civil war in which neither side can afford to let the other win. Members of the regime in Damascus know that getting rid of Assad is not going to do them any good and, if they lose, they may well end up dead, like the Druze villagers of Qalb Lawzeh.

    “Mr Ford defends the moderates, saying that their alliance with Nusra is only tactical and the result of their weakness and disunity. But in a further interview with Middle East Monitor, Mr Ford makes an important point, warning that “with this cooperation [between moderates and Nusra], they have made it impossible to get a negotiated political deal, because the people in the regime who do not like Assad, and there are lots who don’t like Assad, look at the opposition and say we cannot negotiate with an opposition that supports Nusra”.
    Well, that was ambassador Ford’s views on the situation last year. And it seems like the kind of view that the rest of the State Department’s officials dealing with Syria should be familiar with by now. And so it would appear that a large chunk of the State Department’s Syria policy specialists are calling for the US to bomb the Assad government into accepting a peace settlement which was seen as politically impossible last year due to the fact that groups like al Nusra will become legitimized political forces and terrorize the populace.

    Wow. That’s pretty dark. But if there’s one positive thing the leaking of this memo could bring about it’s that the absurdity of this “bombs for ‘peace'” declaration might finally start a conversation about what sort of peace settlement could happen if no Islamist radicals are part of the new government. Yes, such a settlement would be staunchly opposed by countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but so what? It’s a big world.

    So, assuming the forced conversions and ethnic cleansing that would inevitably be part of an Islamist government aren’t part of any “peace” settlement, isn’t there some sort of guarantees the global community could make to the non-Islamist factions that would clearly be agreeable to all parties? Pledges of massive sustainable aid and maybe peacekeeping forces to prevent reprisal killings? Who knows, maybe such an agreement isn’t possible which would be an incredible tragedy. But it’s probably an even greater tragedy if we never even get to the point of finding out whether or not peace is possible because various parties insist on including violent theocrats in the peace process.

    Of course, dropping bombs to force peace negotiations with those violent theocrats would be even pretty tragic too.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 18, 2016, 4:53 pm
  6. Here’s a big reason why Turkey’s efforts to prevent another ISIS attack are probably going to have limited results: Turkey’s ongoing aid and shelter to ISIS’s militant ideological brethren:

    The Washington Post

    Double game? Even as it battles ISIS, Turkey gives other extremists shelter

    By Joby Warrick
    July 10, 2016 at 8:07 PM

    To his Turkish hosts, Rifai Ahmed Taha was a tiny, elf-like man with an oversize beard and colorful past. To U.S. officials, he was a dangerous terrorist who would be tracked and targeted — if ever he left his Turkish sanctuary.

    The opportunity came in early April, when Taha ventured across the border into Syria for a meeting with Islamist militants. Just five days later, a U.S. drone fired a missile at the Egyptian’s car as it stopped for gas near the Syrian city of Idlib, killing him and four other suspected jihadists.

    The strike ended the career of a man who had been an ally of ­Osama bin Laden and, more recently, an adviser to Syrian rebels linked to al-Qaeda. It also highlighted what U.S. terrorism experts view as Turkish schizophrenia when it comes to battling violent jihadists: Even as Turkey ramps up its campaign against the Islamic State, it continues to tolerate and even protect other Islamists designated by Western governments as terrorists.

    Turkey has defended its policy of giving refuge to exiled supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, which was overthrown in a coup in 2013. But among those offered shelter in Turkey are leaders of the Egyptian group Gamaa Islamiya, whose members carried out murderous attacks against tourists in Egypt in the 1990s and were later tied to multiple plots to kill Americans.

    Like Taha, some of the exiles continued to support pro-al-Qaeda groups in Syria , U.S. officials say. Taha was trying to mediate a dispute between Jabhat al-Nusra — al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate — and another Islamist faction when he was killed.

    “These people were part of [al-Qaeda leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri’s core cadre,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury Department counterterrorism official and now vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank. “It’s all the more troubling because Turkey is a NATO member that is supposed to be allied with the West in fighting a common enemy.”

    The new concerns about Turkey’s protection of violent jihadists follow years of complaints about Ankara’s support for other Islamist groups, such as Hamas. While the Palestinian group’s military wing is officially listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, Turkey has repeatedly granted asylum to Hamas operatives, and it allowed the group to open an international headquarters in Istanbul two years ago.

    Since 2013, Turkey has served as a refuge and organizing base for exiled opponents of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s government. Istanbul is home to thousands of Muslim Brotherhood activists — the vast majority of them nonviolent — as well as at least two Web TV channels that specialize in anti-Sissi programming, including explicit calls for the overthrow of Egypt’s secular government.

    Such permissive policies stand in contrast to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s newly assertive stance against the Islamic State, the group suspected in last month’s Istanbul airport attack that killed 45 people. Erdogan has moved to tighten lax border controls that allowed terrorist recruits and contraband to flow from Turkey into Iraq and Syria, and last week he vowed a further crackdown against a group that he called “not Islamic.”

    Yet Erdogan has taken a softer line toward Jabhat al-Nusra, one of several Islamist groups that Turkish officials supported during the early years of the Syrian civil war before formally breaking with it under Western pressure in 2014. In a speech last month, Erdogan repeated his suggestion that the “terrorist” label was inappropriate for Jabhat al-Nusra’s Islamist rebels, who, after all, also are at war with the Islamic State.

    Turkish officials reject criticism of the country’s policies as hypocritical. Western countries, including the United States, are providing weapons and money to Kurdish groups that Turkey regards as terrorist, noted a senior Turkish diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a policy dispute with a NATO ally.

    “The difference is, Turkey doesn’t give arms or training to any of these groups,” the official said. “We’re concerned over U.S. engagement with [Kurdish militia group] YPG. The United States justifies its support for them because they’re fighting ISIS. But to us, this support is very destructive to the stability of the region.”

    A jihadist elder statesman

    The Egyptian exile killed in the April 5 drone strike was undeniably deserving of the terrorist label, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials familiar with his history.

    Taha was 61 and wizened, with a broad, snow-white beard, when he crossed into Syria for a meeting with Islamist rebel groups. Yet U.S. officials contend that even at that age, he was an active and respected figure within al-Qaeda’s network in the Middle East and beyond. He had been wanted by Washington since the late 1990s, when U.S. prosecutors named him as a co-conspirator in al-Qaeda plots to strike U.S. targets around the world.

    Taha had been a senior leader in Egypt’s Gamaa Islamiya in 1997 when its members killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptian guides in Luxor, Egypt. In later years, by his own admission, he would participate in multiple plots to assassinate Egyptian leaders, and he would publicly praise al-Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. While Gamaa Islamiya would ultimately renounce terrorism, Taha was part of a small faction that continued to sanction its use, a State Department report concluded in 2001. The report described Taha’s faction as committed to “attacks against U.S. and Israeli interests.”

    Taha, also known as Rifai Taha Musa, was arrested in Syria in late 2001 and deported to Egypt, where he spent the next decade in prison. But he regained his freedom, along with hundreds of other jailed Islamists, after the 2011 election that brought Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi to power.

    Morsi’s overthrow and arrest two years later sent hundreds of supporters fleeing to Turkey, to be welcomed by an Erdogan government that publicly condemned the coup and denounced Egypt’s new president as a despot. But among the exiles were a number of veteran jihadists well-known to Western counterterrorism officials, including Taha and Mohammad Shawqi al-Islambouli, also a former top leader of Gamaa Islamiya, which is also known as the Islamic Group.

    Islambouli, who announced his official status as a protected political refu­gee on his Facebook account in June 2015, was a close bin Laden ally in the 1980s and 1990s. His alleged continued association with jihadist groups prompted U.S. Treasury officials in 2005 to label him a “specially designated global terrorist.” Last year, a special review of Islambouli’s record by U.N. officials resulted in the removal of his name from the world body’s terrorist list. The United States kept him on its list. Efforts to reach Islambouli for comment were unsuccessful.

    Since at least 2014, U.S. officials have linked Taha and Islambouli to the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria said to specialize in planning attacks against the West. Yet during this time, the two lived openly in Istanbul, appearing at conferences and media events. Taha was an occasional guest on pro-Morsi Web TV channels, where he would sometimes encourage fellow Egyptians to take up arms against their country’s government.

    “What are we waiting for?” he asked during a November 2014 interview recorded in Istanbul. “We will not confront this regime with bare chests. If they take up arms, then we will take up arms.”

    Associates of Taha confirmed that he was killed while trying to settle a dispute between Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist factions in Syria. His death was mourned at a public service in Istanbul, attended by friends and former comrades, including Islambouli, according to photos and videos taken at the event.

    ‘What he wished for’

    It was a fitting end for a career jihadist who had always talked of becoming a martyr, according to Hani al-Sibai, director of the Maqrizi Center for Historical Studies in London. Taha had no sooner crossed into Syria than he “got what he wished for,” Sibai said.

    “He met his Lord in an American drone strike,” Sibai said.

    Turkey’s embrace of exiles such as Taha and Islambouli has drawn condemnations from Egypt’s government, which has blasted Erdogan as a terrorist supporter who is contributing to instability in the Middle East. Erdogan, for his part, insists that he rejects terrorism and seeks only to protect Muslims’ right to peaceful self-determination.

    “If we defend democracy, then let’s respect the ballot box,” Erdogan said in a 2014 U.N. speech, in a thinly veiled critique of Egypt’s Sissi.

    Yet the violent histories of some of Turkey’s “guests” undercut such claims, highlighting the perils of a policy that seeks to protect and even encourage some extremists while Turkey wages war against others, according to U.S. officials and analysts.

    Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, party aligns itself with the international Muslim Brotherhood movement, and Erdogan personally has sought to project himself as a defender of oppressed Islamists, from Cairo to the Palestinian territories. But in reality, the lines between ardent nationalism and violent extremism are never neatly drawn, said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.

    “The AKP is Muslim Brotherhood-lite,” Cagaptay said. “But even as a ‘lite’ version, it is internationally networked and sympathetic to the heavier version. And that includes Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.”

    Turkish officials have maintained that they can control such groups by allowing them to operate in the open. But Ankara once made similar claims about radical Syrian factions that it allowed to work in relative freedom along the border, noted Schanzer, the former Treasury official.

    “The Turks turned a blind eye, and now they’re paying the price,” Schanzer said. “The idea was that they could distinguish between these groups — between a guy from the Egyptian Islamic Group or al-Nusra Front and another from the Islamic State. But they don’t really have the ability to distinguish, and now they’ve lost their way.”

    Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, party aligns itself with the international Muslim Brotherhood movement, and Erdogan personally has sought to project himself as a defender of oppressed Islamists, from Cairo to the Palestinian territories. But in reality, the lines between ardent nationalism and violent extremism are never neatly drawn, said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.”

    Yeah, branding your government as the global defender of oppressed Islamists groups like Hamas and Gamaa Islamiya is probably going to complicate your government’s anti-terror strategy. You have to wonder how many ISIS members are joining these protected groups as ISIS continues to crumble. It seems like an obvious escape route.

    Of course, as the Erdogan government has also reminded us, it could be worse! Because it is.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 11, 2016, 2:54 pm
  7. During one of Donald Trump’s recent attempts to deflect speculation that he may have given assistance by Kremlin hackers, Trump raised an interesting question regarding the US policy regarding ISIS that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand despite the fact that it came from Donald Trump’s mouth: “When you think about it, wouldn’t it be nice if we got along with Russia?…Wouldn’t it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIS?”. That was Trump’s question. It’s not an unreasonable question. And while it may have been intended as sort of a rhetorical question, here’s the latest consequence of a joint US-Russian military campaign in Syria:

    CNN

    Syria’s al-Nusra rebrands and cuts ties with al Qaeda

    By Ray Sanchez and Paul Cruickshank

    Updated 7:08 PM ET, Thu July 28, 2016

    (CNN)Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al Nusra has announced it is severing ties with al Qaeda and changing its name to Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, according to a video statement from leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani.

    Though Golani, in his first video appearance, said the new group will have “no affiliation to any external entity,” U.S. officials quickly dismissed the rebranding as a public relations ploy.

    The supposed breakup comes less than two weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and Russia had agreed to cooperate in Syria against al Nusra in an effort to “restore the cessation of hostilities, significantly reduce the violence and help create the space for a genuine and credible political transition” in the war-ravaged country.

    Al Qaeda has given the split its blessing, according to veteran Egyptian operative Ahmad Hasan Abu al Khayr al-Masri, who has been elevated to the No. 2 leadership position in the terror group. Masri spoke in an audio message released Thursday by al Nusra.

    The man Masri would replace, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a separate message also expressed support for the decoupling and called for infighting between jihadist groups to end.

    Golani said the change does not represent an ideological split. Instead, it was intended to remove the excuse used by the international community — led by the United States and Russia — to “bombard and displace Muslims … under the pretense of targeting Jabhat al Nusra.”

    The group emerged in late 2011 during the early days of the Syrian civil war and was initially largely made up of battle-hardened Syrians who had traveled to Iraq to fight U.S. troops during the American engagement there.

    It has become one of the most effective factions fighting the Syrian regime and currently controls swaths of northwestern Syria.

    In 2012, the State Department added al Nusra Front to the list of aliases for al Qaeda in Iraq, which had already been designated a foreign terrorist organization.
    The name change does not alter Washington’s perception of the group, according to the State Department.

    “We judge any organization, including this one, much more by its actions, its ideology, its goals,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said of al Nusra.

    “We judge a group by what they do, not by what they call themselves. … Thus far, there’s no change to our views about this particular group. We certainly see no reasons to believe that their actions or their objectives are any different. And they are still considered a foreign terrorist organization.”

    Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called the rebranding a “PR move … to create the image of being more moderate in an attempt to unify and galvanize and appeal to other opposition groups in Syria.”

    Clapper also said al Nusra is concerned about being targeted by Russia.

    U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Aspen Security Forum that al Nusra’s new branch “comes back into the core ideology and core approach at the center. … It’s still al Qaeda.”

    Experts said the split will enable al Nusra to more deeply ally itself with other rebel groups in Syria. It also fits into Zawahiri’s longstanding strategies of gaining mass Muslim backing for al Qaeda and push for jihadists to build a base for future expansion in the Arab world.

    Al Qaeda’s new No. 2 man, Masri, had been under some form of detention in Iran but was released in March 2015 in a reported prisoner swap. Western intelligence agencies believe he may be in Syria.

    The distribution of his audio message by the Syrian jihadist group — in addition to Masri’s reference to studying the Syrian arena — further points to his presence in Syria.

    According to a 2005 designation by the U.S. Treasury Department, Masri’s real name is Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abd al-Rahman. He was born in northern Egypt in 1957.

    A former al Qaeda insider, who met the Egyptian operative in Afghanistan, described al Masri as responsible for travel logistics and expense claims for operatives sent on international missions before 9/11.

    Masri, the insider said, has been close to Zawahiri and was part of his Egyptian Islamic Jihad group since the late 1980s, according to the former al Qaeda operative.

    Masri traveled to Sudan with Zawahiri in the early 1990s and later to Afghanistan, where he joined Osama bin Laden’s entourage. The circumstances of his capture by Iran are unclear.

    Al Qaeda operative Sulayman Abu Ghayth told U.S. investigators that he, Masri and other al Qaeda operatives were arrested in Shiraz, Iran, in April 2003 and jailed in Tehran for nearly two years.

    Ghayth said they were transferred to apartment-like housing “without windows” and then to small houses inside a military compound in the Tehran area, where they were joined by members of bin Laden’s family, including Hamza bin Laden, according to U.S. court documents.

    The former al Qaeda insider described Masri as an officious bookkeeper with little charisma who was often mocked by other jihadists.

    “The supposed breakup comes less than two weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and Russia had agreed to cooperate in Syria against al Nusra in an effort to “restore the cessation of hostilities, significantly reduce the violence and help create the space for a genuine and credible political transition” in the war-ravaged country.”

    That’s right, less than two weeks after the US and Russia agreed to a joint military campaign against al Nusra, the group laughably declared itself no longer a branch of al Qaeda…with al Qaeda’s leadership’s blessing. Wow, that’s really sneaky!

    So what might happen when the US and Russian form an alliance against ISIS too? We’ll see, since the Obama administration publicly floated last month and Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the US and Russia were working on such an alliance over two weeks ago.

    Donald Trump must have missed those updates. Hopefully he’ll be more up to date now that he’s getting national security briefings as the GOP candidate. Well, ok, hopefully he doesn’t actually get those national security briefings. Or if he does get them at least the information is limited. There’s got to be at least some national security risk-related information he can be safely given. At least a few tidbits here and there.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 29, 2016, 6:00 pm
  8. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt all suddenly severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. Why? Well, the main reason appears to be outrage over comments by Qatar’s ruler critical of growing anti-Iranian sentiments in the region.
    Plus Qatar’s long-standing role as the Gulf monarchy that still openly backs and finances hardline Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood:

    Bloomberg Politics

    Why Tiny Qatar Angers Saudi Arabia and Its Allies: QuickTake Q&A

    by Grant Clark and Mohammed Sergie
    June 5, 2017, 1:38 AM CDT June 5, 2017, 1:55 PM CDT

    Saudi Arabia and three of its Arab allies cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, furious with what they see as the tiny emirate’s tolerant attitude toward Iran and Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The moves by the Saudis, Bahrain, the U.A.E. and Egypt came soon after U.S. President Donald Trump visited the region and joined Saudi Arabia in lambasting Iran for sponsoring terrorism from Syria to Yemen.

    1. What’s caused the diplomatic rift?

    It’s mostly, but not all, about Iran. The spark for this flare-up was a report by the state-run Qatar News Agency that carried comments by Qatar ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani criticizing mounting anti-Iran sentiment. Qatari officials quickly deleted the comments, blamed them on hackers and appealed for calm. Criticism by Saudi and U.A.E. media outlets escalated after Sheikh Tamim phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the weekend in apparent defiance of Saudi criticism.

    2. So this is a Sunni vs Shiite tension?

    Partly. The Shiite-led Islamic Republic of Iran is Sunni-led Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival. The two major oil exporters are on opposite sides of conflicts from Syria to Iraq. In taking diplomatic action, the Saudis accused Qatar of supporting “Iranian-backed terrorist groups” operating in the kingdom’s eastern province as well as Bahrain. But they also cited Qatar’s support of “terrorist groups aiming to destabilize the region,” including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

    3. Why is the spat taking place now?

    The temperature noticeably rose following Trump’s visit. Days after Trump and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz singled out Iran as the world’s main sponsor of terrorism, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. accused Qatar of trying to undermine efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic. Newspapers, clerics and even celebrities attacked Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim; the Riyadh-based Al-Jazirah daily declared that he stabbed his neighbors with Iran’s dagger.

    4. What do analysts say?

    Emboldened by closer U.S. ties under Trump, the Saudis and the U.A.E. are seeking to crush any opposition that could weaken a united front against Iranian influence in the Middle East. The two countries are also putting pressure on Qatar to end its support for Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip.

    5. What does Iran say?

    Before the latest confrontation, Rouhani, a moderate cleric who was re-elected to a second, four-year term last month, said his country is ready for talks to end the feuding. At the same time, though, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields more power than Rouhani, has said the Saudi regime faces certain demise for its policies in Yemen. In 2015, Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of Sunni-led countries to fight Yemeni Shiite rebels loyal to Iran after they toppled a Gulf-backed government. The war there continues.

    6. Where else are Saudi and Iran facing off?

    They are locked in proxy wars on opposite sides of conflicts across the region from Syria to Yemen. Suspicions that cyberattacks on government agencies in Saudi Arabia emanated from Iran threatened to elevate tensions between the two powers in late 2016. Earlier that year, after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric, Iranian protesters set the Saudi embassy in Tehran on fire, and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran.

    7. Are disagreements with Qatar anything new?

    In 2014, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain temporarily withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. That dispute centered on Egypt, where Qatar had supported a Muslim Brotherhood government while the Saudis and U.A.E. bankrolled its army-led overthrow. Qatar also hosts Hamas’s exiled leadership as well as Taliban officials. Analysts say Saudi and its allies want to show Qatar, a country of 2.6 million residents, that it is punching above its strategic weight.

    8. Isn’t that what Qatar tries to do?

    Less so now than in the past. During the Arab Spring uprisings Qatar, uniquely among Middle Eastern governments, broadly supported groups agitating for change — as long as it was outside the Persian Gulf. Muslim Brotherhood groups have mostly foundered since, and Qatar reeled back its support for them in 2014 when faced with diplomatic threats from its Gulf neighbors. Qatar also aspires to be the region’s indispensable mediator. Its leaders have connections with a wide range of parties, such as warring tribes in Libya as well as both the U.S. and the Taliban. On the other hand, by choosing sides during the Arab Spring revolts, it weakened its standing as a neutral party.

    9. What else is Qatar known for?

    It’s the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, has the world’s highest per-capita income ($129,700 a year), will hold the 2022 FIFA World Cup and hosts the Al Jazeera television channel. When Saudi Arabia ejected the U.S. air operations center for the region in 2003, Qatar took it on. Today the emirate hosts 10,000 U.S. troops and is home to the forward headquarters of CENTCOM, the U.S. military’s central command in the Middle East.

    The nation’s $335 billion sovereign wealth fund holds stakes in companies from Barclays Plc and Credit Suisse Group.

    11. Why might this dispute be different?

    “Internal differences and disagreements are nothing new, but what is interesting is the timing and the somewhat unprecedented level of pressure,” says Mehran Kamrava, director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar, referring to the recent Trump visit. That suggests that “Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. want nothing but complete submission from Qatar.’’ If Qatar resists, that will further destabilize an already volatile region. For one, the faceoff also encumbers U.S. efforts to fight Islamic State: Qatar is home to bases central to the U.S.-led air offensive.

    ———-

    “Why Tiny Qatar Angers Saudi Arabia and Its Allies: QuickTake Q&A” by Grant Clark and Mohammed Sergie; Bloomberg Politics; 06/05/2017

    “It’s mostly, but not all, about Iran. The spark for this flare-up was a report by the state-run Qatar News Agency that carried comments by Qatar ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani criticizing mounting anti-Iran sentiment. Qatari officials quickly deleted the comments, blamed them on hackers and appealed for calm. Criticism by Saudi and U.A.E. media outlets escalated after Sheikh Tamim phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the weekend in apparent defiance of Saudi criticism.”

    So comments by Qatar’s ruler that weren’t in keeping with the Saudi plans for ramping up for war with Iran. And that triggered a severing of diplomatic relations. But this isn’t just about Qatar deviating from the Sunni-Shia civil war. It’s also apparently about Qatar’s ongoing disagreement over whether or not to back the various Sunni radical militant groups operating in the region like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood:


    Emboldened by closer U.S. ties under Trump, the Saudis and the U.A.E. are seeking to crush any opposition that could weaken a united front against Iranian influence in the Middle East. The two countries are also putting pressure on Qatar to end its support for Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip.

    7. Are disagreements with Qatar anything new?

    In 2014, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain temporarily withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. That dispute centered on Egypt, where Qatar had supported a Muslim Brotherhood government while the Saudis and U.A.E. bankrolled its army-led overthrow. Qatar also hosts Hamas’s exiled leadership as well as Taliban officials. Analysts say Saudi and its allies want to show Qatar, a country of 2.6 million residents, that it is punching above its strategic weight.

    8. Isn’t that what Qatar tries to do?

    Less so now than in the past. During the Arab Spring uprisings Qatar, uniquely among Middle Eastern governments, broadly supported groups agitating for change — as long as it was outside the Persian Gulf. Muslim Brotherhood groups have mostly foundered since, and Qatar reeled back its support for them in 2014 when faced with diplomatic threats from its Gulf neighbors. Qatar also aspires to be the region’s indispensable mediator. Its leaders have connections with a wide range of parties, such as warring tribes in Libya as well as both the U.S. and the Taliban. On the other hand, by choosing sides during the Arab Spring revolts, it weakened its standing as a neutral party.

    So Qatar is getting isolated by its fellow Sunni Gulf monarchies (plus Egypt) over Qatar’s apparent support of Iran but also over Qatar’s open support of Sunni-supremacist extremist groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Its’ a rather strange situation in that sense.

    Especially given all the secret support of these same Sunni-extremists by the Saudis and gulf monarchies. Secret support that isn’t actually a secret but governments don’t want to mention anyway:

    The Guardian

    ‘Sensitive’ UK terror funding inquiry may never be published

    Investigation into foreign funding and support of jihadi groups operating in UK understood to focus on Saudi Arabia

    Jessica Elgot
    Wednesday 31 May 2017 10.20 EDT
    Last modified on Wednesday 31 May 2017 13.08 EDT

    An investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups that was authorised by David Cameron may never be published, the Home Office has admitted.

    The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis.

    The investigation was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015.

    Tom Brake, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, has written to the prime minister asking her to confirm that the investigation will not be shelved.

    The Observer reported in January last year that the Home Office’s extremism analysis unit had been directed by Downing Street to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to Theresa May, then home secretary, and Cameron.

    However, 18 months later, the Home Office confirmed the report had not yet been completed and said it would not necessarily be published, calling the contents “very sensitive”.

    A decision would be taken “after the election by the next government” about the future of the investigation, a Home Office spokesman said.

    The contents of the report may prove politically as well as legally sensitive. Saudi Arabia, which has been a funding source for fundamentalist Islamist preachers and mosques, was visited by May earlier this year.

    Last December, a leaked report from Germany’s federal intelligence service accused several Gulf groups of funding religious schools and radical Salafist preachers in mosques, calling it “a long-term strategy of influence”.

    The Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said he felt the government had not held up its side of the bargain made ahead of the vote on airstrikes. The report must be published when it was completed, he insisted, despite the Home Office caution that information in the document would be sensitive.

    “That short-sighted approach needs to change. It is critical that these extreme, hardline views are confronted head on, and that those who fund them are called out publicly,” he said.

    “If the Conservatives are serious about stopping terrorism on our shores, they must stop stalling and reopen investigation into foreign funding of violent extremism in the UK.”

    ———-

    “‘Sensitive’ UK terror funding inquiry may never be published” by Jessica Elgot; The Guardian; 05/21/2017

    “The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis.”

    Yes, the UK has a report thought to focus on Saudi financing of Islamist radicals. But its contents might be so ‘sensitive’ that it might not be publicly released:


    The investigation was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015.

    Tom Brake, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, has written to the prime minister asking her to confirm that the investigation will not be shelved.

    The Observer reported in January last year that the Home Office’s extremism analysis unit had been directed by Downing Street to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to Theresa May, then home secretary, and Cameron.

    However, 18 months later, the Home Office confirmed the report had not yet been completed and said it would not necessarily be published, calling the contents “very sensitive”.

    A decision would be taken “after the election by the next government” about the future of the investigation, a Home Office spokesman said.

    “However, 18 months later, the Home Office confirmed the report had not yet been completed and said it would not necessarily be published, calling the contents “very sensitive”

    So no word yet on whether or not Saudi Arabia is planning on severing diplomatic relations with itself over its funding of far-right reactionary Islamist ideologies.

    But one thing is very clear at this point: Saudi Arabia’s new glowing anti-terrorism orb had better watch out.

    The call is coming from inside the House, orb! Get out of there!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 5, 2017, 2:11 pm
  9. With the UK’s June 8th early elections wrapping up – and exit polls suggesting a surprising loss of the Conservative parliamentary majority – following repeated far-right Islamist terror attacks, it’s worth noting that the next UK government should probably look into this:

    Medium.com
    Insurge Intelligence

    ISIS recruiter who radicalised London Bridge attackers was protected by MI5

    From collusion to blowback

    by Nafeez Ahmed

    June 7, 2017

    Published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a crowdfunded investigative journalism project for people and planet. Support us to keep digging where others fear to tread.

    The terrorists who rampaged across London on the night of 3 June were part of a wider extremist network closely monitored by MI5 for decades. The same network was heavily involved in recruiting Britons to fight with jihadist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

    Police have confirmed that Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba were the three terrorists shot dead after participating in a brutal van and knife attack in the London Bridge area.

    According to press reports, both Butt and Redouane were longstanding members of the proscribed extremist network formerly known as al-Muhajiroun. After 9/11, the group operated under different names such as Shariah4UK, Muslims4Crusades and Islam4UK. Originally founded by Lebanese firebrand, Omar Bakri Mohammed, who was banned from returning to the UK after the 7/7 attacks, the network was later run by Bakri’s deputy, Anjem Choudary.

    Red flags, missed

    Choudary was convicted in 2016 for supporting and encouraging support for ISIS.

    Yet the press has largely ignored the extent to which Choudary’s uncanny freedom to operate in Britain, and to send British Muslims to fight in foreign theatres, was linked to his opaque relationship to Britain’s security services.

    Khuram Butt was known to counter-terrorism police and MI5, who investigated him in 2015. The official line is that he was deprioritised as no evidence of attack planning was found.

    Anonymous British counter-terrorism sources, however, told CNN that Butt was the subject of a “full package” of investigatory measures, as he was believed to be “one of the most dangerous extremists in the UK”. After September 2014, when ISIS began calling for attacks on the West, British security services grew “increasingly concerned that al-Muhajiroun members who had remained in the UK would carry out terrorist attacks.” The sources said that “One of those they were most concerned about was Butt.”

    According to the Telegraph, Redouane fought with the Libyan Islamist militia unit Liwa al-Ummah to topple Muammar Qaddafi. Libyan security and diplomatic sources told the paper this militia sent foreign fighters to Syria after the NATO-backed revolution, many of whom “went on to fight alongside Al-Qaeda extremists in Syria”.

    As British foreign policy analyst Mark Curtis reports: “The Liwa al-Ummah was formed by a deputy of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the former emir of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.” Belhaj went on to become a military commander for the NATO-backed National Transition Council in Tripoli to bring down Qadafi in 2011. And in 2012, Liwa al-Ummah fighters in Syria merged with the main rebel force, the Free Syrian Army (FSA)?—?which received direct military and logistical support from the US and UK militaries, as well as the Gulf states and Turkey.

    Metropolitan Police denied that the third attacker, Zaghba, was known to the authorities, describing him as “not a police or MI5 subject of interest.”

    An Italian national of Moroccan descent, Zaghba had also come on the radar of Italian intelligence in March 2016. Authorities stopped him at Bologna airport while trying to take a flight to Turkey to reach Syria, and had passed information on his movements to Moroccan authorities, as well as MI5 and MI6—noting that he had told authorities in Bologna that he wanted to become a terrorist.

    Despite being placed on an EU-wide watchlist, he managed to enter Britain without problems.

    ISIS recruiters

    Several sources who spoke to me on condition of anonymity said they had known of both Butt and Redouane, describing them as notorious “trouble-makers” who were shunned by wider Muslim communities.

    “Yeah, I knew these guys, they used to hang out down the road from me in Barking,” said one Muslim resident of east London. “They were known as open ISIS supporters. They used to recruit people to go Syria and fight. It was hardly a secret.”

    The source was familiar with Khuram Butt but did not know the other London attackers. “He was part of the al-Muhajiroun network. They were Anjem Choudary’s boys. When the Syrian war first broke out, these guys were organising a lot of people to go there and fight. They did it under humanitarian cover, pretending they were going to give aid and stuff.”

    Another source based in north London knew both Butt and Redouane as followers of Anjem Choudary. He said that they had joined al Muhajiroun after 9/11, and whenever he would bump into them they would talk “all about fighting infidel shia, they worse than Jews, etc.”

    He said that they openly campaigned in support of ISIS: “Man, these guys were loud and clear. They thought of Iraq and Syria as land of the caliphate. As before they loved Taliban but criticised them for not making it caliphate. They always invited people to join jihad and Syria. Nothing new there.”

    MI5’s open door

    According to an investigation by Middle East Eye, from 2011 to around early-2013, MI5 operated an ‘open door’ policy for Britons to travel and fight in Libya and Syria. Foreign fighters told MEE that their travels had been facilitated by Britain’s security services.

    After travelling back to Libya in May 2011, one British fighter “was approached by two counter-terrorism police officers in the departure lounge who told him that if he was going to fight he would be committing a crime.”

    The fighter provided them the name and phone number of an MI5 officer. Following a quick phone call to him, he was waved through.

    “As he waited to board the plane, he said the same MI5 officer called him to tell him that he had ‘sorted it out’…

    Another British citizen with experience of fighting in both Libya and in Syria with rebel groups also told MEE that he had been able to travel to and from the UK without disruption.

    ‘No questions were asked,’ he said.”

    The ‘open door’ policy was designed to augment US and British support to opposition forces seeking to overthrow Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Funnelled through our allies, the Gulf states and Turkey, the bulk of this support went not to secular rebels but to hardline Islamist groups, including both al-Qaeda and ISIS.

    Under this ‘open door’, as Curtis observes, “at least one London attacker and the Manchester bomber were able to travel to Libya to fight in Britain’s war.”

    So, under May's Home Office, at least one future London attacker & Manchester bomber were able to travel to Libya to fight in Britain's war. https://t.co/putYdceCDR— Mark Curtis (@markcurtis30) June 7, 2017

    Since 2011, the primary figure responsible for recruiting Britons to fight in the Middle East and North Africa was Anjem Choudary.

    Of the 850 Britons who went to join various insurgent groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, most of them—fully 500—had been recruited by Choudary to fight with ISIS. Choudary had also been linked to as many as 15 terror plots since 2001. These astonishing figures were revealed by the police after Choudary was convicted last year.

    Sensitive ISIS documents corroborate the former al-Muhajiroun network’s crucial role in this British-ISIS terror funnel. The documents, leaked in early 2016, identified Choudary’s mentor—Omar Bakri Mohammed—as a sponsor of Britons trying to be inducted into ISIS.

    Choudary’s role as a key instigator in the recruitment of British Muslims to join the ISIS jihad in Syria, occurred at precisely the same time that Britain’s security services were operating an ‘open door’ policy to augment the anti-Gaddafi and anti-Assad rebellions.

    These activities were well-known to British police and intelligence. Earlier this year, a group of extremists connected to Choudary were jailed for supporting ISIS and urging people to fight in Syria, after a 20 month-long undercover police operation.

    This raises the question as to whether the reason nothing was done to shut down Choudary’s activities was his utility to MI5’s ‘open door’ to Libya and Syria.

    MI5 and ISIS recruiters, sitting in a tree

    The official explanation of the failure to prosecute Bakri and Choudary for so long despite this track record is that the two were notoriously clever at appearing to staying on the right side of law. Supposedly, this meant that counter-terrorism officials found it difficult to build a case against them.

    This narrative is problematic. Security sources speaking outside of official press statements have pointed to a somewhat different reality: that both Bakri and Choudary had ties to MI5.

    In his book The Way of the World, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ron Suskind recounts how he was told by a senior MI5 officer that Bakri had long been an informant for the security service, who “had helped MI5 on several of its investigations.”

    Bakri confirmed the same in an interview with Suskind. “Bakri enjoyed his notoriety and was willing to pay for it with information he passed to the police,” wrote Suskind.

    “It’s a fabric of subtle interlocking needs: the [British authorities] need be in a backchannel conversation with someone working the steam valve of Muslim anger; Bakri needs health insurance.”

    Bakri’s ties with British intelligence to support foreign operations, moreover, go back decades.

    As I It’s a fabric in the Independent on Sunday:

    “According to a former US Army intelligence officer, John Loftus, three senior al-Muhajiroun figures—Mr Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza and Haroon Rashid Aswat—were recruited by MI6 in 1996 to influence Islamist activities in the Balkans.”

    But the connection did not stop there.

    In 2000, Bakri admitted training British Muslims to fight as jihadists abroad, boasting: “The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity.”

    A year later, the private security firm set up by Bakri in cohorts with Abu Hamza—Sakina Security Services—was raided by police and eventually shut down. Speaking in Parliament at the time, Andrew Dismore MP claimed the firm sent Britons “overseas for jihad training with live arms and ammunition”. Bakri was not arrested, let alone charged or prosecuted.

    In short, Omar Bakri’s utility to British state operations in foreign theatres, such as the Balkans, appeared to grant him immunity in extremist recruitment at home.

    To this day, it is not widely known that Bakri and his al-Muhajiroun network played a key role in facilitating the recruitment, radicalisation and logistics behind the 7/7 London bombings. The ultimate suppression of crucial evidence of this from government narratives, despite being mandatory reading for all legal counsel during the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest, has granted the group virtual free reign.

    Thus, Omar Bakri’s acolyte and deputy, Anjem Choudary, led a similarly charmed life.

    Days after Choudary’s terrorism conviction, a former Scotland Yard counter-terrorism officer who had investigated Choudary revealed that prior to the proceedings, Choudary too had been protected by MI5.

    The Telegraph reported that despite being at “the forefront of radical Islam in Britain” for 20 years:

    “The security services repeatedly prevented Scotland Yard from pursuing criminal investigations against hate preacher Anjem Choudary… Met counter-terror officers often felt they had enough evidence to build a case against the radicalising cleric, only to be told to hang fire by MI5, because he was crucial to one of their on-going investigations.”

    It was only in August 2015, after Choudary posted YouTube videos online which openly documented his support for ISIS, that he was eventually prosecuted. Prior to that, the police believed they had a watertight case, but the decision not to prosecute had come from MI5.

    The police source himself told the newspaper:

    “I am gobsmacked that we allowed him to carry on as long as long as he did. He was up to his neck in it but the police can’t do full investigations on people if the security service say they are working on a really big job, because they have the priority. That is what they did constantly. While the police might have had lots of evidence they were pulled back by the security service because he [Choudary] was one of the people they were monitoring. It was very frustrating and did cause some tension but we were told we had to consider the bigger picture.”

    The bigger picture: war

    According to Charles Shoebridge, though—a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer—“nothing was done by UK authorities” to stop UK citizens “joining jihadist groups in Libya and Syria.”

    This was despite the fact that these Britons “made no secret on social media of the fact, even sometimes posting evidence of their participation in acts of terrorism and war crimes.” There was an “obvious risk of terrorism blowback were such trained and experienced extremists to return to Britain.”

    Shoebridge had pointed out at the time that “this ‘turning a blind eye’ was actually consistent with the UK govt position of intensive overt and covert support of rebel groups in Libya and Syria in attempting to topple Gaddafi and Assad.” Turning a blind eye, he added, was also consistent with “a long record of the UK government allowing, using and facilitating Islamist extremists to destabilise ‘enemy’ states, from Soviet occupied Afghanistan in the 80s, through Bosnia and Chechnya, to Libya and Syria today…

    “It was only in 2013 when groups such as ISIS started to harm US and UK interests in Syria and Iraq, and kill US and UK citizens, that any action at all was taken to stop British jihadists from travelling, or arresting and charging those who returned. At this time it’s likely a tipping point was reached in the inherent conflict between MI6 priorities in furthering UK govt policy to overthrow Gaddafi and Assad, and MI5’s stated priority of keeping the UK safe from terrorism?—?indeed, it’s likely a tipping point was also reached internally within MI5 itself. In any event, from 2013 action started to be taken, which suggests government policy changed.”

    The official defence for all this is that before 2013, the legislation necessary to tackle travelling jihadists did not exist. Shoebridge dismisses this as nonsense: “First, it’s been illegal to take part in terrorist related activities abroad since 2006 and, second, the new legislation introduced since 2013 has itself barely been used.”

    In fact, it was only around 2014 that British counter-terrorism officials moved more aggressively to take down al-Muhajiroun.

    I asked the Home Office to confirm whether Choudary was indeed an MI5 informant, and whether British authorities were aware of his recruitment of Britons to Syria—including the role of any of the London attackers as ‘foreign fighters’.

    A spokesperson said: “We are not commenting on the individuals named while that investigation continues or responding to speculation.”

    But if Geddes and Shoebridge are correct, then when Anjem Choudary—Britain’s top ISIS terror recruiter—was dispatching Britons to Syria, he was, in Geddes words, “allowed… to carry on” by Britain’s security services.

    The decision not to prosecute Choudary was to have fatal consequences. In February, about half of the British fighters who had travelled to Iraq, Syria and Libya returned.

    In November 2014, as Home Secretary, Theresa May said that JTAC, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, had raised the threat level for international terrorism from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’, indicating that an attack on the UK was believed to be “highly likely.” May’s announcement clarified that the threat level was lifted primarily due to the threat from 500 British nationals who had largely fought with ISIS:

    “The decision to change the threat level was based primarily on developments in Syria and Iraq, where the terrorist group ISIL controls swathes of territory. We believe more than 500 British nationals have travelled to Syria and Iraq, many of them to fight… ISIL and its western fighters now represent one of the most serious terrorist threats we face.”

    Collusion

    It was Theresa May’s own ‘open door’ policy toward Britons fighting in foreign theatres which directly facilitated the expansion of this threat.

    Under that policy, the chief coordinator of the British-ISIS corridor, Choudary, had active ties to MI5 which prevented counter-terrorism police officers from prosecuting him.

    This draws a direct connection between Choudary’s impunity in Britain until 2015, and Britain’s short-sighted foreign policy goals in Syria.

    “When the US and British militaries were working with the Turks to train various Syrian rebel groups, many military officers knew that among those we were training was the next round of jihadists,” said Alastair Crooke, a former 30 year senior MI6 officer who dealt with Islamist groups across the Muslim world. “But the CIA was fixated on regime change. We knew that even if at any moment ISIS was eventually defeated, these Islamist groups would move against secular and moderate forces.”

    This collusion between Western security services and Islamist extremism, Crooke told me, has very long roots in an intelligence culture that went back as far as the 1920s, “when in the attempt to gather control of the Arabian peninsula, King Abdulaziz told us that the key is Wahabism.”

    This alliance culminated in the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which was “the first clear use of fired-up Islamist radicals to provoke Russia into an invasion. This set the scene ever since. From then, our intelligence services have had a deeply entwined history with Islamist groups based on the belief that Saudi Arabia had the power to turn them on and off at will.”

    Islamist groups have been used by British and American intelligence services, said Crooke, essentially “to control and contain the Middle East” against different forces, Nasserism, nationalists, and more recently Baathists.

    Perhaps Crooke’s most damning insight was how these operations led to British intelligence becoming heavily dependent on Gulf state intelligence services to conduct regional operations.

    “In the 1980s, Saudi began paying for operations with large sums of money—which was considered acceptable in the interests of landing a blow on the USSR’s influence in the region. As a result, though, our intelligence services became increasingly dependent on Saudi funding. If they wanted to avoid Congressional or parliamentary oversight, and to continue expanding difficult and sensitive off-the-books operations, they would go instead to their Gulf partners.”

    The impact of this on the integrity of the US and British intelligence community has been devastating:

    “The assumption is that this doesn’t affect the integrity of intelligence, but clearly it does. The Gulf states have become paymasters for increasing expenditures on intelligence operations that the security services would prefer not be disclosed.”

    This “incipient influence directly into the intelligence services”, said Crooke, is “supplemented by huge subsidies to think-tanks in Washington and London which create a specific cultural atmosphere. It has led many in the US and Europe to uncritically absorb the Gulf kingdoms’ narrative of the region—one in which it is seen as absolutely fine to use fired-up Sunni Islamism to overturn governments like that of Gaddafi or Assad, without any sort of reflection.”

    For Crooke, this mindset is responsible for the persistence of such failed policies, and explains why in the early days of the ‘Arab Spring’, Western policymakers believed they could “use Islamists of all sorts as useful tools to bring about change, and that our Gulf allies could control all this.”

    I asked Crooke what should be done—especially now, in the unprecedented wake of three terrorist attacks in Britain over three months:

    “We should start by surfacing these matters into consciousness. Only then can we begin the conversations needed to resolve them. We need to understand that the tension between fighting a ‘war on terror’ while at the same time in some ways being in bed with terrorists, has produced a disaster.”

    For Shoebridge, the biggest elephant in the room is intelligence reform: “Repeatedly, MI5 has made decisions not to deploy its substantial physical and electronic surveillance resources against extremists who were well known to it, and who then went on to commit or attempt terrorist attacks?—?Manchester being a prime example.”

    One explanation of this, he said, could be that the decision making processes by which MI5 prioritises the deployment of its resources are “defective.” Another could be that some extremists “were actually working as informants for MI5, regarded as under control or trustworthy, and therefore not needing to be watched.”

    ———-

    “ISIS recruiter who radicalised London Bridge attackers was protected by MI5” by Nafeez Ahmed; Medium.com; 06/07/2017;

    “Yet the press has largely ignored the extent to which Choudary’s uncanny freedom to operate in Britain, and to send British Muslims to fight in foreign theatres, was linked to his opaque relationship to Britain’s security services.”

    And what was that relationship with Britain’s security services? It appeared to be “if you act as an informant, but also recruit and train jihadists for fights in foreign lands, you’ll be fine”. Or something like that:


    In his book The Way of the World, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ron Suskind recounts how he was told by a senior MI5 officer that Bakri had long been an informant for the security service, who “had helped MI5 on several of its investigations.”

    Bakri confirmed the same in an interview with Suskind. “Bakri enjoyed his notoriety and was willing to pay for it with information he passed to the police,” wrote Suskind.

    “It’s a fabric of subtle interlocking needs: the [British authorities] need be in a backchannel conversation with someone working the steam valve of Muslim anger; Bakri needs health insurance.”

    Bakri’s ties with British intelligence to support foreign operations, moreover, go back decades.

    As I It’s a fabric in the Independent on Sunday:

    “According to a former US Army intelligence officer, John Loftus, three senior al-Muhajiroun figures—Mr Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza and Haroon Rashid Aswat—were recruited by MI6 in 1996 to influence Islamist activities in the Balkans.”

    But the connection did not stop there.

    In 2000, Bakri admitted training British Muslims to fight as jihadists abroad, boasting: “The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity.”

    A year later, the private security firm set up by Bakri in cohorts with Abu Hamza—Sakina Security Services—was raided by police and eventually shut down. Speaking in Parliament at the time, Andrew Dismore MP claimed the firm sent Britons “overseas for jihad training with live arms and ammunition”. Bakri was not arrested, let alone charged or prosecuted.

    In short, Omar Bakri’s utility to British state operations in foreign theatres, such as the Balkans, appeared to grant him immunity in extremist recruitment at home.

    To this day, it is not widely known that Bakri and his al-Muhajiroun network played a key role in facilitating the recruitment, radicalisation and logistics behind the 7/7 London bombings. The ultimate suppression of crucial evidence of this from government narratives, despite being mandatory reading for all legal counsel during the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest, has granted the group virtual free reign.

    Thus, Omar Bakri’s acolyte and deputy, Anjem Choudary, led a similarly charmed life.

    Days after Choudary’s terrorism conviction, a former Scotland Yard counter-terrorism officer who had investigated Choudary revealed that prior to the proceedings, Choudary too had been protected by MI5.

    So let’s hope the next UK government takes a look into this history. Will it? Well, that probably depends on whether or not who ends up being the next prime minister. And whether or not they have close ties to HSBC and/or business in Saudi Arabia:

    The Canary

    Amber Rudd has been caught on film trying to censor a debate about the Tories and terrorism [VIDEO]

    Steve Topple
    June 5th, 2017

    Home Secretary Amber Rudd tried to shut down a debate about the Manchester bombing, the Conservative Party’s links to Saudi Arabia, and terrorism. But it was caught on film. And the man at the centre of the storm has told The Canary that Rudd tried to silence him because the subject is so “sensitive” to the Tories.

    Silencing dissent?

    Nicholas Wilson is an anti-corruption campaigner. And he is also standing as an independent parliamentary candidate in Hastings and Rye, against Rudd. At a hustings on 3 June, Wilson was discussing Theresa May’s links to Saudi Arabia and HSBC bank, but also how the Saudi kingdom itself is linked to international terrorism – especially in relation to the Manchester bombing.

    But moments after Wilson started, Rudd can be seen writing on a piece of paper. She then handed the note to the Chair of the hustings, who immediately tried to stop Wilson talking:
    [see video]

    Following this, the Chair of the meeting forced Wilson to stop and hand him the microphone:
    [see video]
    Too sensitive?

    Wilson told The Canary:

    Rudd shut me down because I was broaching two subjects the Tories are very sensitive about: HSBC and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and their connections to each. As I’ve been disclosing for years, the Tories are up to their necks in HSBC corruption. And, until April, two top people at the BBC were also an HSBC Director [Rona Fairhead] and Chairman of BAE Systems [Roger Carr].

    As The Canary previously reported, Wilson has detailed May’s potential conflict of interest regarding her husband Philip and HSBC, and also her promoting of investment in Saudi Arabia.

    Conflict of interest?

    May’s husband Philip works for US investment firm Capital Group. The company works closely with HSBC, just recently establishing a partnership in Hong Kong. So when it was announced that HSBC had been selected to advise Saudi Arabia on the sale of its state oil company Aramco, Wilson looked into this.

    And he found that, in April 2017, Theresa May had gone to Saudi Arabia and had a meeting with Aramco Chairman Khalid Al-Falih. Additionally, only one British businessman attended any of May’s meetings in Saudi Arabia. He was Sir Xavier Rolet, the CEO of the London Stock Exchange. Wilson told The Canary:

    It seems obvious to me that the PM is simply lobbying in secret on behalf of her husband, Philip. But also for HSBC and the London Stock Exchange. And, of course, the Tory Party. Serious questions need to be asked.

    More questions than answers

    In the wake of firstly the Manchester bombing, and now the London attacks, more questions appear than answers. And while there needs to be discussion about the foreign policy implications of these horrific attacks, the question of Saudi Arabia is more clear cut. The UK government should suspend all arms licences to the kingdom with immediate effect, and should conduct a full review of our “relationship” with the country. But judging by Rudd silencing debate on this issue, it’s a subject the Tories have no interest in talking about.

    The Canary approached Amber Rudd for clarification of her actions but received no response.

    ———-

    “Amber Rudd has been caught on film trying to censor a debate about the Tories and terrorism [VIDEO]” by Steve Topple; The Canary; 06/05/2017

    “Nicholas Wilson is an anti-corruption campaigner. And he is also standing as an independent parliamentary candidate in Hastings and Rye, against Rudd. At a hustings on 3 June, Wilson was discussing Theresa May’s links to Saudi Arabia and HSBC bank, but also how the Saudi kingdom itself is linked to international terrorism – especially in relation to the Manchester bombing.

    And what happened just moments after Wilson started discussing the HSBC/Saudi arms sales/terror connection to Theresa May and her husband Philip? Britain’s Home Secretary (Theresa May’s old job) and shut Wilson’s speech down. On video:


    But moments after Wilson started, Rudd can be seen writing on a piece of paper. She then handed the note to the Chair of the hustings, who immediately tried to stop Wilson talking:
    [see video]

    Following this, the Chair of the meeting forced Wilson to stop and hand him the microphone:
    [see video]
    Too sensitive?

    Wilson told The Canary:

    Rudd shut me down because I was broaching two subjects the Tories are very sensitive about: HSBC and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and their connections to each. As I’ve been disclosing for years, the Tories are up to their necks in HSBC corruption. And, until April, two top people at the BBC were also an HSBC Director [Rona Fairhead] and Chairman of BAE Systems [Roger Carr].

    As The Canary previously reported, Wilson has detailed May’s potential conflict of interest regarding her husband Philip and HSBC, and also her promoting of investment in Saudi Arabia.

    So that gives us a sense of the current UK government’s interest in addressing the jihadist recruiting/training networks apparently operating under the protection of MI5 as part of a larger foreign policy of utilizing Islamic radicals for geopolitical ends regardless of the inevitable blowback to the UK and the incredible damage fostering such groups and protecting/arming fundamentalist regimes does to the reform movements of the Muslim world.

    It’s the kind of situation that makes everyday a good day for an early election. So yay for today.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 8, 2017, 2:40 pm
  10. The Financial Times had a good piece on some of the regional tensions behind the sudden severance of diplomatic ties between Qatar and its Sunni neighbors. And the article notes one of the dynamics that should be interesting to watch as this plays out: Qatar and Turkey have been growing increasingly close, with Ankara opening up a military base in Qatar in recent years. And many of the same issues that allegedly sparked this fight (Qatar’s ongoing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other far-right Islamists militants) are also being pursued by Turkey (and also the Saudis and UAE, but they assert that support has gone away in recent years). So is a big Saudi/UAE/Egypt fight with Turkey on the horizon too? We’ll see, but based on the logic behind the spat with Qatar it seems like a future fight with Turkey only makes sense (which is not to say that any of this actually makes sense):

    The Financial Times

    What is behind the extraordinary Gulf dispute with Qatar?
    Doha’s alleged support for terrorism pits vital US allies in Middle East against each other

    by: Simeon Kerr in Dubai
    June 5, 2017

    The unprecedented move by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain to sever diplomatic ties and cut transport links with Qatar pits important US allies in the Middle East against each other.

    The action on Monday is an attempt to isolate the Gulf state because of its alleged support of terrorism.

    Following the move, Qataris have been given two weeks to leave the four countries, while Saudis, Egyptians, Emiratis and Bahrainis have been barred from travel to or through the state.

    Qatar has a population of just 2.7m people — most of whom are expatriates. Vast gas resources have turned it into one of the world richest nations and it is a crucial supplier of liquefied natural gas to Asia and Europe. The country also has large investments in the UK, including London’s Shard building and Harrods department store, and Europe through the Qatar Investment Authority, its sovereign wealth fund.

    What is the immediate impact on Qatar?

    The impact will be profound as Qatar imports half of its food supplies across the land border with Saudi Arabia. The closure is also likely to effect the construction industry and threaten Doha’s ability to prepare for the 2022 football World Cup.

    There will also be an impact on aviation. Qatar Airways, one of the world’s fastest growing carriers, will face longer westbound flights with Saudi airspace closed. Abu Dhabi carrier, Etihad, and Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, have already announced they will stop flights to Qatar from Tuesday.

    Riyadh and Abu Dhabi also said they would seek legal measures to stop other friendly parties using their airspace to reach Doha, but details of any attempt to tighten the blockade have not emerged.

    If the dispute deepens, Qatar’s supply of natural gas to neighbouring UAE via the Dolphin pipeline could be halted, cutting a third of the UAE’s supply as demand for power spikes in the hot summer months.

    What is Qatar accused of?

    Qatar’s support for Islamist movements has long been criticised by its regional neighbours, especially the UAE.

    Abu Dhabi regards Doha’s embrace of political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, as an existential threat to the Gulf monarchies. The two have been engaged in increasingly vicious propaganda wars for years, using state-owned media to throw allegations at each other.

    Doha, longstanding home of the brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi, has acted as a haven for Islamist activists, including Saudi and Emirati nationals.

    Qatar has also backed Islamist parties and rebel groups in conflicts, including in Libya and Syria.

    In Syria, Qatar has been the most aggressive backer of Islamist groups seeking to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Critics say this has included indirect assistance to al-Qaeda affiliates, such as Tahrir al-Sham, via ransom payments for hostage releases.

    Saudi Arabia has also been a supporter of Islamist groups, but observers say it has reduced its direct assistance in recent years. Western critics accuse Doha of lukewarm co-operation in the fight against terrorist financing.

    Egypt and the UAE have also accused Qatar and Turkey of supporting Islamist rebels in Libya. Cairo and Abu Dhabi back Khalifa Haftar, a military strongmen who controls much of eastern Libya.

    Regionally, Doha has forged closer ties with Ankara, which has adopted a similar approach to backing Islamist groups in Syria. Turkey has opened a military base in Qatar, which has hosted the US’s regional military headquarters at al-Udeid air base for years.

    Qatar admits its view of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood differs to some of its neighbours, but says there is nothing wrong in backing groups that have widespread popular support. It denies backing violent terrorist groups.

    What are the links between Qatar and Iran?

    The Riyadh/Abu Dhabi axis has become increasingly concerned about what it sees as Doha’s cosying up to Shia Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, in recent months.

    Qatar, a Sunni state that shares its massive North gasfield with the Islamic republic, has traditionally taken a less aggressive stance towards Iran, like fellow Gulf state Oman.

    Doha prides itself as a neutral player that can act as an intermediary in regional conflicts, from Lebanon to Sudan. The city hosts officials from groups regarded as terrorists by many other states, including Hamas and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    But Doha’s critics say neutral mediation has mutated into support for groups that are actively attacking the interests of Sunni Gulf states.

    Qatar is alleged to have paid millions of dollars to Iran-backed groups, including Hizbollah, to secure the release last month of Qataris who were taken hostage in southern Iraq last year.

    Riyadh accuses Tehran of interfering in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain. Breaking Sunni Gulf ranks on Iran is regarded as a betrayal too far.

    Why now?

    The propaganda war between the state-funded media of Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Qatar has been escalating for weeks.

    Doha claimed its state news agency had been hacked after it published comments last month allegedly made by the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, expressing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and threw an olive branch to Iran. The Saudi and Emirati media ignored the hacking claims and repeatedly broadcast Sheikh Tamim’s alleged remarks.

    Qatar’s state-owned satellite television channel, Al Jazeera, then gave prominence to reports this week about the apparent hacking of emails written by Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s highly influential ambassador to the US, that referred to a campaign against Doha’s alleged terrorist links.

    ———-

    “What is behind the extraordinary Gulf dispute with Qatar?” by Simeon Kerr; The Financial Times; 06/05/2017

    “Regionally, Doha has forged closer ties with Ankara, which has adopted a similar approach to backing Islamist groups in Syria. Turkey has opened a military base in Qatar, which has hosted the US’s regional military headquarters at al-Udeid air base for years.”

    Yep, Turkey jopened its first military base in Qatar just last year and now it’s planning on sending 3,000 troops to that base in the wake of this dispute. And given their mutual deep ties to the Muslim Brotherhood it’s note a surprising particularly surprising relationship:


    Egypt and the UAE have also accused Qatar and Turkey of supporting Islamist rebels in Libya. Cairo and Abu Dhabi back Khalifa Haftar, a military strongmen who controls much of eastern Libya.

    Qatar admits its view of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood differs to some of its neighbours, but says there is nothing wrong in backing groups that have widespread popular support. It denies backing violent terrorist groups.

    So that potential fault line in what appeared to be a nearly unanimous Sunni front against Iran and the Shias should be something to watch. What’s next? That remains to be seen, although whatever is next will probably involve more claims of Russian hacking. More Russian hacking claims on top of the current ones:

    CNN

    CNN Exclusive: US suspects Russian hackers planted fake news behind Qatar crisis

    By Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz
    Updated 7:34 AM ET, Wed June 7, 2017

    Washington (CNN) US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US’ closest Gulf allies, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.

    The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, Qatari and US government officials say.

    Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion first reported by the Qatari government two weeks ago, US officials say. Qatar hosts one of the largest US military bases in the region.

    The alleged involvement of Russian hackers intensifies concerns by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia continues to try some of the same cyber-hacking measures on US allies that intelligence agencies believe it used to meddle in the 2016 elections.

    US officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the US and its allies. In recent months, suspected Russian cyber activities, including the use of fake news stories, have turned up amid elections in France, Germany and other countries.

    It’s not yet clear whether the US has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services blamed for the US election hacks. One official noted that based on past intelligence, “not much happens in that country without the blessing of the government.”

    The FBI and CIA declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Qatari embassy in Washington said the investigation is ongoing and its results would be released publicly soon.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed what he called CNN’s “fake” reporting Wednesday.

    “It’s another lie that was published,” he told reporters. “Unfortunately, our colleagues from CNN again and again publish references to unnamed sources in unnamed agencies, etc, etc. These streams of information have no connection with the reality. It’s so far away from the reality. Fake is a fake.”

    The Qatari government has said a May 23 news report on its Qatar News Agency attributed false remarks to the nation’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel and questioned whether President Donald Trump would last in office.

    Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news.

    “Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” the foreign minister told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”

    Sheikh Saif Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, director of the Qatari Government Communications Office, confirmed that Qatar’s Ministry of Interior is working with the FBI and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency on the ongoing hacking investigation of the Qatar News Agency.

    “The Ministry of Interior will reveal the findings of the investigation when completed,” he told CNN.

    Partly in reaction to the false news report, Qatar’s neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have cut off economic and political ties, causing a broader crisis.

    The report came at a time of escalating tension over accusations Qatar was financing terrorism.

    On Tuesday, Trump tweeted criticism of Qatar that mirrors that of the Saudis and others in the region who have long objected to Qatar’s foreign policy. He did not address the false news report.

    “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

    In his tweet, Trump voiced support for the regional blockade of Qatar and cited Qatar’s funding of terrorist groups. The Qataris have rejected the terror-funding accusations.

    Hours after Trump’s tweets, the US State Department said Qatar had made progress on stemming the funding of terrorists but that there was more work to be done.

    US and European authorities have complained for years about funding for extremists from Saudi Arabia and other nations in the Gulf region. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

    Last year, during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Obama administration officials raised the issue of Saudi funding to build mosques in Europe and Africa that are helping to spread an ultra-conservative strain of Islam.

    ———-

    “CNN Exclusive: US suspects Russian hackers planted fake news behind Qatar crisis” by Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz; CNN; 06/07/2017

    “The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, Qatari and US government officials say.”

    And what did that FBI team discover when investigating this incident that created a major diplomatic and military headache for the US? Russian hackers dunnit!


    It’s not yet clear whether the US has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services blamed for the US election hacks. One official noted that based on past intelligence, “not much happens in that country without the blessing of the government.”

    The FBI and CIA declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Qatari embassy in Washington said the investigation is ongoing and its results would be released publicly soon.

    The Qatari government has said a May 23 news report on its Qatar News Agency attributed false remarks to the nation’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel and questioned whether President Donald Trump would last in office.

    Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news.

    “Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” the foreign minister told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”

    So just remember: this emerging intra-Sunni conflict isn’t a consequence of the myriad of conflicts and contradictions overlaying the interests and struggles of a region dominated by theocratic monarchs at perpetual war with the religious radicals of their own creation. ‘Russian hackers’ did it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 9, 2017, 3:12 pm
  11. President Trump laid out his vision for the US’s role in Afghanistan going forward last night during an address to the nation: In contrast to his calls during the campaign to pull out of Afghanistan entirely he’s now convinced to sense thousands of more ground troops. But, Trump emphasized, ‘We’re not nation-building. We’re killing terrorists’. So it’s unclear what the actual new strategy is, but what is clear is that the US is going to have a major military footprint in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, which isn’t particularly surprising but it does mean that that the underlying urgency to finding some sort of grounds for a peaceful settlement to the conflict is still there too.

    So with that in mind, it’s worth noting that if there’s one thing that Trump could possibly do that would facilitate a peaceful resolution it’s going after the flows that keep the Taliban supplied with weapons, resources, and potentially foreign fighters. That’s part of what made Trump’s eyebrow-raising comments where he call out Pakistan’s government for providing assistance to Taliban networks and then called on Pakistan’s mortal enemy India to “help us more” in Afghanistan so intriguing. One the surface the comments seemed like Trumpian bluster that was simply going to to piss off the Pakistani government. But if it also signals some sort of new backroom diplomatic drive to pressure Pakistan, who knows, maybe some good will come from it. But if cutting off the weapons and money flows to the Taliban is going to be part of Trump’s strategy, someone should let him know that his wealthy buddies in Saudi Arabia need some Trumpian scolding over their support for the Taliban too:

    The New York Times

    Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government

    By CARLOTTA GALL
    DEC. 6, 2016

    KABUL, Afghanistan — Fifteen years, half a trillion dollars and 150,000 lives since going to war, the United States is trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan. Afghans are being left to fight their own fight. A surging Taliban insurgency, meanwhile, is flush with a new inflow of money.

    With their nation’s future at stake, Afghan leaders have renewed a plea to one power that may hold the key to whether their country can cling to democracy or succumbs to the Taliban. But that power is not the United States.

    It is Saudi Arabia.

    Saudi Arabia is critical because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides.

    A longtime ally of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has backed Islamabad’s promotion of the Taliban. Over the years, wealthy Saudi sheikhs and rich philanthropists have also stoked the war by privately financing the insurgents.

    All the while, Saudi Arabia has officially, if coolly, supported the American mission and the Afghan government and even secretly sued for peace in clandestine negotiations on their behalf.

    The contradictions are hardly accidental. Rather, they balance conflicting needs within the kingdom, pursued through both official policy and private initiative.

    The dual tracks allow Saudi officials plausibly to deny official support for the Taliban, even as they have turned a blind eye to private funding of the Taliban and other hard-line Sunni groups.

    The result is that the Saudis — through private or covert channels — have tacitly supported the Taliban in ways that make the kingdom an indispensable power broker.

    In interviews with The New York Times, a former Taliban finance minister described how he traveled to Saudi Arabia for years raising cash while ostensibly on pilgrimage.

    The Taliban have also been allowed to raise millions more by extorting “taxes” by pressing hundreds of thousands of Pashtun guest workers in the kingdom and menacing their families back home, said Vali Nasr, a former State Department adviser.

    Yet even as private Saudi money backed the Taliban, Saudi intelligence once covertly mediated a peace effort that Taliban officials and others involved described in full to The Times for the first time.

    Playing multiple sides of the same geopolitical equation is one way the Saudis further their own strategic interests, analysts and officials say.

    But it also threatens to undermine the fragile democratic advances made by the United States in the past 15 years, and perhaps undo efforts to liberalize the country.

    The United States now finds itself trying to persuade its putative ally to play a constructive rather than destructive role. Meanwhile, the Afghans have come to view Saudi Arabia as both friend and foe.

    The question now, as Afghan officials look for help, is which Saudi Arabia will they get?

    Prince Turki al-Faisal, who led the Saudi intelligence agency for over 24 years and later served as ambassador to the United States until his retirement in 2007, rejected any suggestion that Saudi Arabia had ever supported the Taliban.

    “When I was in government, not a single penny went to the Taliban,” he wrote in emailed comments.

    He added that the “stringent measures taken by the kingdom to prevent any transfer of money to terrorist groups” had been recognized by Daniel L. Glaser, the United States assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury, in testimony to Congress in June.

    Others say the verdict is still out. “We know there has been this financing that has gone on for years,” Hanif Atmar, director of the Afghan National Security Council, said in an interview. “This sustains the terrorist war machine in Afghanistan and in the region, and it will have to be stopped.”

    That may be easier said than done. Saudi Arabia remains one of the main sources of what Secretary of State John Kerry recently called “surrogate money” to support Islamist fighters and causes.

    Much of that largess is spread about in pursuit of what Mr. Nasr describes as a Saudi strategy of building a wall of Sunni radicalism across South and Central Asia to contain Iran, its Shia rival.

    That competition is being rekindled. With the Americans leaving, there is the sense that Afghanistan’s fate is up for grabs.

    In recent months, the Taliban has mounted a coordinated offensive with about 40,000 fighters across eight provinces — a push financed by foreign sources at a cost of $1 billion, Afghan officials say.

    At the same time, Saudi Arabia is offering the Afghan government substantial defense and development agreements, while Afghans say sheikhs from Saudi Arabia and other Arab Persian Gulf states are quietly funneling billions in private money to Sunni organizations, madrasas and universities to shape the next generation of Afghans.

    “The Saudis are re-engaging,” said Mr. Nasr, now dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, in a telephone interview. “Afghanistan is important to them, which is why they invested so much in the 1980s, and they are looking to make themselves much more relevant.”

    Surrogate Support

    The seven-year Taliban theocracy in Afghanistan was coming to a fiery end. It was 2001, and the Taliban government was collapsing under United States bombing unleashed in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Disguising himself as a doctor, Agha Jan Motasim, the Taliban finance minister, escaped over a remote border crossing into Pakistan aboard a Red Crescent ambulance, he said in a recent interview.

    In the Pakistani border town of Quetta, he and other Taliban leaders regrouped and began organizing the insurgency that continues today. Mr. Motasim was appointed head of the finance committee.

    One of his first stops was Saudi Arabia.

    As home to both enormous oil wealth and Islam’s holiest sites, it was the perfect place to make appeals not only to rich Saudi sheikhs and foundations but also to important donors who traveled to the kingdom on pilgrimage from all over the Muslim world.

    Between 2002 and 2007, Mr. Motasim traveled to Saudi Arabia two or three times a year. Ostensibly he went on pilgrimage, but his primary purpose was to raise cash for the Taliban.

    “There were people coming from other countries for umrah and hajj,” he said referring to the different Muslim pilgrimages. “Also the Saudi sheikhs would come as well. I would ask them for their help for the war.”

    “It was not only the Saudis who would help us but people who would come from different countries,” he recalled. “Saudi Arabia was the only country where I could meet them.”

    Once secured, the money could be moved in myriad ways to Taliban coffers, officials said, including through regional banks near Pakistan’s tribal areas and the hawala system of informal money-changers.

    Last year, Afghan security forces even discovered families of Al Qaeda members entering eastern Afghanistan with a stash of gold bars, Rahmatullah Nabil, former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, said.

    The Saudi authorities often say they cannot control or always identify the millions of Muslims who travel to the kingdom every year on the hajj, said Barnett Rubin, who worked as special adviser to the United States envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    The Taliban always traveled on fake Pakistani passports under assumed names and were unknown to Saudi authorities, said a security official in the region, who spoke on condition of strict anonymity, citing the extreme sensitivity to upsetting Saudi Arabia.

    American requests to cut the funding yielded little result.

    In 2009, American officials complained that the Taliban and other extremist groups were raising millions of dollars during annual pilgrimages, according to American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

    A December 2009 cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

    The cables date from a period when Richard C. Holbrooke, who died in 2010, acted as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and actively sought to curb funding to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

    The funding from the gulf extended well beyond that period and to other groups besides the Taliban, including the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

    In a leaked email from 2014, Mrs. Clinton described the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia as “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

    Financing such groups, she wrote, was part of a contest between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who were in “ongoing competition to dominate the Sunni world.”

    Covert Peace Efforts

    It was September 2008, the holy month of Ramadan, and King Abdullah was hosting an iftar dinner in Mecca. But this was no routine breaking of the fast at sunset.

    The feast was an important signal of the king’s personal support for a covert yet still evolving peace effort. Among the dozens of guests were Afghan officials and elders, as well as former Taliban members.

    Within months, at a more discreet venue in the Red Sea port of Jidda, the Saudi intelligence agency convened Afghanistan’s chief adversaries to hash out a peace deal.

    Mr. Motasim, the same man who had been collecting money for the insurgency, was named by the Taliban as its representative.

    On the other side, the emissary for President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was his brother, Qayum Karzai.

    During three days of intense discussions — breaking at intervals when the men locked horns — a Saudi intermediary nudged the two sides forward.

    The peace effort had begun in 2006. The initial broker was Abdullah Anas, an Algerian who had won credibility by fighting the Soviets for 10 years in Afghanistan.

    In an interview, Mr. Anas said his decision to seek out the Saudis as a third-party mediator was obvious, because of the kingdom’s special status as home to Islam’s two holiest sites and its support during the fight against the Soviet occupation.

    “Even in a very far village in Afghanistan, Saudi means something,” said Mr. Anas, who today runs Al Magharibia, a satellite television channel based in London.

    Still, getting the Saudis on board took some persuading. The events of 9/11 had deeply embarrassed them.

    Both the kingdom and the United States had nurtured the mujahedeen to push out a Soviet occupation in the 1980s, but the subsequent behavior of the Taliban infuriated the Americans. Harboring Osama bin Laden was the last straw.

    For the Saudis, it was more complicated.

    Even when the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden — Prince Turki, the Saudi intelligence chief, requested it in person in 1998 — the kingdom still did not break with them.

    Saudi Arabia supported the Taliban government up to 2001 and beyond, in alignment with Pakistan, the kingdom’s main ally to check Iranian influence in the region.

    “The problem is Saudi Arabia sees Afghanistan through the lenses of Pakistan,” Mr. Anas said, describing a prime challenge of his peace initiative.

    To achieve peace, Mr. Anas said he wanted to encourage the Saudis to build a relationship with Afghanistan directly.

    People involved in the effort — who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process was conducted in confidentiality — say King Abdullah was moved to back the effort out of a sense of compassion.

    He did so, they said, even in the face of resistance from other Saudi royals who were unhappy with the American occupation. Yet others were wary of further involvement in Afghanistan.

    To overcome Saudi reluctance, Mr. Anas took the Saudi emissary to Afghanistan to show that it remained a freely practicing Muslim society, despite the presence of American troops. President Karzai wrote King Abdullah, who had ascended to the throne in August 2005, a deferential letter requesting his intercession. It worked.

    King Abdullah met the Afghan leader at the door of his plane on a pilgrimage visit. Mr. Karzai still speaks highly of his friendship with King Abdullah, who died in 2015.

    “He would never, never, never leave my call unanswered,” he recounted in an interview. “The same day he would get back to me, talk to me and do all that I asked.”

    The Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, personally oversaw the negotiations, sending his emissary between Mr. Motasim of the Taliban and the Afghan government for two years.

    But when talks neared a critical endpoint, the Taliban were gripped by a vicious power struggle. The Saudi demand that the Taliban renounce terrorism and its ties to Al Qaeda was never met. Mr. Motasim was accused of embezzlement and removed.

    The next year, 2010, his main protector, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s chief operational commander, was arrested in Pakistan, while an assassin shot Mr. Motasim and left him for dead outside his home in Karachi, though he survived.

    Both events were interpreted as Pakistan’s opposition to any peace process being negotiated without its participation, several of those involved in the process say.

    “It was then that this process was sabotaged,” Mr. Motasim said.

    King Abdullah intimated to President Karzai in 2010 that there were obstructions beyond his control.

    “I wish to help Afghanistan,” Mr. Karzai recalled the king’s saying. “I want it to be peaceful, I want you to sit down and talk to the Taliban, but you must recognize that all I can do is what Saudi can do.

    “That was a very meaningful word,” Mr. Karzai concluded, “meaning that there were other forces who were probably not willing to allow this to happen.”

    Trouble on the Horizon

    Despite those covert efforts, the Saudi kingdom, publicly and officially, has been largely absent in Afghanistan. While paying lip service to the American mission, Saudi Arabia has not built a significant project in its own name in Afghanistan in 15 years.

    Yet official Saudi neglect stands in stark contrast to the wealth of private Saudi funding that has done more than bolster the Taliban and allied militant groups in the region.

    It has also spawned hundreds of universities, madrasas and radical groups that have extended Sunni influence and that Afghans fear are sowing seeds of future turmoil.

    One of those Afghans is Nisar Karimzai, who runs a small research office, the Organization for Research of Peace and Stability.

    During the Soviet occupation, Mr. Karimzai went to school in Pakistan, where he fell in with a Sunni extremist crowd. “They teach that the Shia are not Muslim,” he recalled, referring to Shiites.

    He eventually discarded extremist thinking. But his own experience made him wary when he saw a cousin become involved with an Islamist group called Jamiat Eslah.

    “I recognize the way they are training them,” Mr. Karimzai said. “It was exactly the same way they taught me.

    “Personally I am scared,” Mr. Karimzai added. “In five years we will face a danger from them. One day they will fight and we will have a very big problem.”

    Jamiat Eslah promotes a strict Islamist worldview and describes itself as a self-financed, nonpolitical organization focused on humanitarian and educational work.

    But the size of its operations, with 40 to 50 buildings including offices, a university and a hospital, indicates substantial outside funding, said Mr. Nabil, a former head of Afghan intelligence.

    The group’s bank accounts show no foreign bank transfers, according to an internal government report. Nevertheless, the report concluded that the group is financed by sources in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

    The group is just one of a proliferating number that have sprouted in recent years as Sunni Arabs from the Persian Gulf compete with Shiite Iran for influence here.

    The Iranians, too, have been busy building madrasas, universities and cultural centers for the Shiite population, and even a road to the border with Iran.

    The rivalry underlying the scale of such competing funding, Afghan officials and others warn, spells trouble. In 2001, Afghanistan had just 1,000 madrasas. Today, there are more than 4,000, the majority of them built in the last few years.

    After a summer and fall of violent attacks, including at the American University of Afghanistan and against Shiite gatherings, Afghans worry at the growing sectarian tilt of Sunni extremist groups.

    Another youth movement gaining traction is Hisb ut-Tahrir, a secretive, anti-establishment group that has a wide underground following in Central Asia, according to several government officials.

    Officials and former insiders of the group said they believed it was funded by foreigners including Saudis and other gulf Arabs, as well as donors in Egypt and Europe.

    “They want to reach as many people as they can and bring them into the party and eventually strengthen their ranks and announce a caliphate,” said Massoud Rahimi, a student at Kabul University, who said he declined when a cousin tried to recruit him.

    “It is going to put Afghanistan on the road of conflict,” he said.

    Which Saudi Now?

    Upon his election 2014, Afghanistan’s current president, Ashraf Ghani, chose Saudi Arabia for his first official trip. Then five months later, after a second trip to meet the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Mr. Ghani pledged Afghan support for the Saudi military coalition for Yemen.

    In return, Mr. Ghani wanted Saudi Arabia’s rulers to stop the flow of funds from rich Saudi sheikhs to the Taliban and encourage the Taliban back into negotiations.

    “The signs are positive,” said Mr. Atmar of the National Security Council. “We have not yet seen concrete movements against this, but we believe that we have a strong commitment.”

    Yet other Afghan officials and local diplomats are deeply skeptical.

    One diplomat in Kabul said tracking the flow of illegal money was virtually impossible. Another, who had served in Saudi Arabia, doubted that Riyadh would change, adding that the vast royal family is split into fiefs often working at odds with each other.

    The scale of the Taliban’s recent offensive also has left many Afghans wary.

    “The level of finance, the level of logistical support in terms of weapons and other materials, and the level of organizational support in terms of leadership of the war they have received is unprecedented,” said Nader Nadery, chief adviser on strategic affairs to the president.

    “It clearly indicates a declared war against Afghanistan,” he added, accusing Pakistan, the stalwart Saudi ally.

    Mr. Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive, recently led a delegation to Saudi Arabia. They went seeking investment, but also asked Saudi leaders to press Pakistan to end its safe haven for terrorists, a request President Karzai also made repeatedly.

    “They said they will do that, and they said they will try in the gulf region to use their influence to mobilize against terrorism,” said Nasrullah Arsalai, director general of the council of ministers secretariat in Afghanistan, who was part of the delegation.

    “Saudi Arabia knows if we fight together, it means the Taliban will not be able to bring money from there,” he said.

    Yet Ruhullah Wakil, a tribal elder who is now a member of the Afghan peace council says he, too, recently beseeched Saudi officials to sponsor the work of the council, which is authorized to pursue negotiations.

    The Saudis were uninterested.

    “They are deaf,” he said. “We asked them to help. We asked them even just to give us some dates to serve to guests.

    “But they gave us nothing.”

    ———-

    “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government” by CARLOTTA GALL; The New York Times; 12/06/2016

    “Despite those covert efforts, the Saudi kingdom, publicly and officially, has been largely absent in Afghanistan. While paying lip service to the American mission, Saudi Arabia has not built a significant project in its own name in Afghanistan in 15 years.”

    As we can see, on the surface it would appear that the Saudis have a relative small focus on the affairs of Afghanistan, but that obscures the private Saudi role financing Taliban and other organizations dedicated to spreading an extremist form of Sunni Islam:


    Yet official Saudi neglect stands in stark contrast to the wealth of private Saudi funding that has done more than bolster the Taliban and allied militant groups in the region.

    It has also spawned hundreds of universities, madrasas and radical groups that have extended Sunni influence and that Afghans fear are sowing seeds of future turmoil.

    But at the same time wealthy Saudis are supporting the Taliban and militant Islamist rule it’s the Saudi government that’s become the secret peace negotiator. Starting back in 2006:


    It was September 2008, the holy month of Ramadan, and King Abdullah was hosting an iftar dinner in Mecca. But this was no routine breaking of the fast at sunset.

    The feast was an important signal of the king’s personal support for a covert yet still evolving peace effort. Among the dozens of guests were Afghan officials and elders, as well as former Taliban members.

    Within months, at a more discreet venue in the Red Sea port of Jidda, the Saudi intelligence agency convened Afghanistan’s chief adversaries to hash out a peace deal.

    Mr. Motasim, the same man who had been collecting money for the insurgency, was named by the Taliban as its representative.

    On the other side, the emissary for President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was his brother, Qayum Karzai.

    During three days of intense discussions — breaking at intervals when the men locked horns — a Saudi intermediary nudged the two sides forward.

    The peace effort had begun in 2006. The initial broker was Abdullah Anas, an Algerian who had won credibility by fighting the Soviets for 10 years in Afghanistan.

    In an interview, Mr. Anas said his decision to seek out the Saudis as a third-party mediator was obvious, because of the kingdom’s special status as home to Islam’s two holiest sites and its support during the fight against the Soviet occupation.

    “Even in a very far village in Afghanistan, Saudi means something,” said Mr. Anas, who today runs Al Magharibia, a satellite television channel based in London.

    “Even in a very far village in Afghanistan, Saudi means something,” said Mr. Anas, who today runs Al Magharibia, a satellite television channel based in London.

    Yep, if anyone can negotiate a peace treaty between the Taliban and the rest of Afghan society it would appear to be the Saudi government. And yet it’s unclear if that’s true since these secret negotiations haven’t exactly been successful over the the last decade as the Saudi support of the Taliban continued. But it’s even more unclear who else on the planet is going to have more credibility is a peace negotiator in the eyes of the Taliban so it seems like the US might be heavily reliant on Saudi cooperation if there’s any hope of seeing the US leave Afghanistan without watching the rest of the country almost immediately fall to the Taliban.

    And yet a Taliban-style theocracy is clearly what the Saudi government would like to see for the country which makes convincing them otherwise part of any sort of long-term Afghan peace process. What is Trump to do? We’ll see but the Saudis are clearly going to need to see The Art of the Deal in action. Hopefully there won’t be any more sword dances required of Trump because it’s unclear that helps. Another round of communing with the glowing anti-terrorism orb should be fine.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 22, 2017, 1:53 pm

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