Archive for the ‘Middle East’ category

Islamist Attacks on Holidays

April 20, 2017

Islamist Attacks on Holidays, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Noah Beck, April 20, 2017

Nearly 50 people were murdered on Palm Sunday when Islamic State terrorists bombed two Coptic churches in an Easter celebration-nightmare. The next day, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate launched rockets at Israel.

Just before Christmas, a terrorist claimed by the Islamic State rammed a truck into Berlin’s crowded Christmas market, killing 12 people. And in Australia, a group of self-radicalized Islamists planned to attack St Paul’s Cathedral. In 2011, Nigerian Islamists murdered nearly 40 Catholic worshipers in a Christmas Day attack.

Terrorists attack where and when they can. But they seem keenly aware that turning holidays into horror can carry greater shock and terror. In 2002, 30 Israeli civilians were massacred and 140 injured by a Hamas suicide bomber who blew himself up as they sat for the seder, the traditional Passover meal, at the Park Hotel in Netanya.

It isn’t just terrorists who see advantages in striking during holidays. The 1973 Yom Kippur War may be the most famous example, when the armies of two Muslim-majority states, Egypt and Syria, attacked Israel on the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar. That war produced an estimated 20,000 deaths.

Christians and Jews aren’t the only religious groups that have been targeted by Islamists during non-Muslim holy days. The Hindu festival of Diwali has also been attacked. In 2005, a series of bombs killed over 60 people and injured hundreds in Delhi; a Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist group, the Islamic Revolutionary Front, claimed responsibility. Last October, Indian police arrested an Islamist cell inspired by the Islamic State for planning an attack during Diwali.

Muslims are also victimized by Islamist attacks in increasing volume. A 2015 mosque bombing in Yemen killed 29 people during prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid. Last July, also during Eid, three people were killed at a Bangladesh checkpoint when gunmen carrying bombs tried to attack the country’s largest Eid gathering, which attracted an estimated 300,000 worshippers.

Last May, as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approached, a spokesman for the Islamic State urged jihadists to “make it, with God’s permission, a month of pain for infidels everywhere.” Days later, as Ramadan celebrations stretched past midnight in central Baghdad, a minivan packed with explosives blew up and killed at least 143 people.

Terrorists also target secular holidays. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian resident of France, killed 85 people and injured hundreds more in a truck-ramming terrorist attack as people gathered for a Bastille Day celebration. In New York last fall, dump trumps were deployed to protect the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, after the Islamic State called it an “excellent target.”

Holidays are often chosen because they are “optimal attack days,” in terms of gathering large crowds into soft targets like houses of worship, religious markets, ceremonial gatherings, and parades. Last November, U.S. officials warned that the coming holiday season could mean “opportunities for violent extremists” to attack.

A terrorist attack on a holiday is also more likely to attract media attention. And because holidays draw tourists, well-timed attacks can amplify the economic damage that would be wrought by terror even on a non-holiday. After a spate of attacks toward the end of 2015, “about 10% of American travelers have canceled a trip … eliminating a potential $8.2 billion in travel spending,” reported MarketWatch.

But ISIS, al-Qaida and other Islamist terrorist groups believe they are waging a holy war above all else. Attacking infidels, be they Christians, Jews or Muslims of other sects, motivates jihadis more than anything else. “Those who targeted churches on holiday celebrations tend to be professional terrorist groups,” Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians, told the IPT. By contrast, “mob attacks happen either on a Friday, after an especially potent sermon, or whenever infidels need to be put in their place (e.g., a Christian accused of blasphemy, then the church in his village gets torched).”

In 2015, Islamic State warnings of future attacks against Christians noted that Christians were their “favorite prey” and no longer protected as “dhimmis,” a reference to non-Muslims in Islam who may, in exchange for paying the jizya tax, receive some state protection.

Thus, within the larger context of a holy war, attacks on non-Muslim holy days can be viewed as part of the more general Islamist strategy of humiliation, forced submission to Islam, and the denial of any competing religion. Attacking on Diwali or Christmas or Yom Kippur is essentially declaring that such “infidel” holy days ought to be desecrated rather than respected. The symbolic message is akin to the one communicated by the two Islamists who entered a French cathedral and beheaded an octogenarian priest, Jacques Hamel, during mass services last July.

Attacking places of worship on holy days – when they are most used by and relevant to their congregations – is also a good way to undermine these religious institutions and their supporters. If Islamist terror makes churches the most vulnerable on the days when they are most crowded, how will those houses of worship attract enough followers to sustain themselves? And how will their congregants practice their faith? The Coptic Pope curbed some Easter celebrations in Egypt after the recent Palm Sunday blasts.

Such questions may help to explain why Christians, who have lived in the Middle East – the birthplace of Christianity – for millennia now constitute only about 3 percent of the region’s population, down from 20 percent a century ago.

Indeed, the only non-Muslim country in the entire Middle East is also the safest place for non-Muslims in the region, including Christians, Druze, and Bahai. “Christians and other minorities in Israel prosper and grow,” says Shadi Khalloul, founder of the Israeli Aramaic Movement. “[W]hile in other countries in the Middle East, as well as in the Palestinian Authority, they suffer heavily from the Islamic movement and persecution – until forced to disappear.”

Mission accomplished in Syria

April 12, 2017

Mission accomplished in Syria, Israel Hayom, Clifford D. May. April 12, 2017

(Accomplished or just begun? — DM)

Congress should send Trump the legislation it is now considering, seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran in reprisal for its continuing support of terrorists, its missile tests and its maintenance of more than 35,000 troops in Syria, including its own, those of its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, and Shiite fighters recruited from Iraq and Afghanistan. Suspending Iran’s deal with Boeing/Airbus would be useful, too. Only the willfully credulous believe that Iran’s theocrats won’t use such aircraft for illicit military purposes.

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If you’re still unsure about whether U.S. President Donald Trump did the right thing when he launched 59 cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Air Base last week, consider the alternative.

He knew that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had yet again used chemical weapons to murder Syrian civilians, women and children prominent among them. He knew that Iran and Russia had enabled this atrocity, as they have many others. He knew he had two choices.

He could shrug, instruct his U.N. ambassador to deliver a tearful speech calling on the “international community” to do something, and then go play a round of golf. Or he could demonstrate that the United States still has the power and the grit to stand up to tyrants and terrorists, thereby beginning to re-establish America’s deterrent capability.

In other words, this was what Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz would call a no-brainer. (Well, loosely translated.) A mission was accomplished. Do harder missions lie ahead? Yes, of course. But I suspect Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster have made that abundantly clear to the new president.

We now know for certain that Russia failed to live up to its 2013 commitment to ensure that Assad surrendered all his illegal chemical weapons under the deal it brokered. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acerbically questioned whether that was the result of complicity or incompetence or whether Russia allowed itself to be duped by Assad.

The strike ordered by President Trump was not “unbelievably small” — then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s description of the punishment then-President Barack Obama decided not to impose in response to Assad’s earlier use of chemical weapons. It was big enough to make clear that American diplomats are again carrying big sticks. (For Obama to insist that diplomacy and force are alternatives was patently absurd.)

Conveniently, Trump was dining with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the strikes occurred. It’s fair to speculate that Xi is today thinking harder about American requests to rein in Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator whose drive to acquire nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the American mainland has become what Tillerson called an “imminent” threat.

Having passed his first major national security test, Trump is now obliged to demonstrate firmness and consistency. What plans might the Pentagon have on the shelf to respond to further provocations? The next round of Tomahawk missiles could permanently ground Assad’s air force. That would make it easier to then establish no-fly zones. If such measures do not alter the calculations of Assad and his Iranian and Russian patrons, consideration could be given to leveling his defense, intelligence and command-and-control centers as well.

Another idea under discussion: setting up safe havens, or, to use a better term, “self-protection zones,” for those fleeing the Syrian regime and various jihadist forces, Sunni and Shiite alike. Israel and Jordan could help the inhabitants of such areas adjacent to their borders defend themselves. The Saudis, Emiratis and Bahrainis could contribute to the cost. Might this lead to the partition of Syria? Most likely, but it’s difficult to imagine a “political solution” that would not include such readjustments.

All this, while useful and perhaps even necessary, should be seen as insufficient. Syria is a major humanitarian catastrophe but only one piece in a much larger geopolitical puzzle. Sooner rather than later, the Trump administration needs to develop what Obama refused to contemplate: a comprehensive and coherent strategy to counter the belligerent, imperialist and supremacist forces that have emerged from the Middle East and are now spreading like weeds around the world.

The Islamic State group will of course need to be driven off the lands on which it has attempted to establish a caliphate. After that, its terrorists will have to be hunted, along with those of al-Qaida, wherever they hide (e.g., Egypt where, over the weekend, they bombed two Coptic Christian churches).

But — and this is crucial — accomplishing these missions must not serve to further empower Iran’s jihadist rulers, who dream of establishing an expanding imamate, the Shiite version of a caliphate.

Most immediately, Congress should send Trump the legislation it is now considering, seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran in reprisal for its continuing support of terrorists, its missile tests and its maintenance of more than 35,000 troops in Syria, including its own, those of its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, and Shiite fighters recruited from Iraq and Afghanistan. Suspending Iran’s deal with Boeing/Airbus would be useful, too. Only the willfully credulous believe that Iran’s theocrats won’t use such aircraft for illicit military purposes.

That the United States cannot solve all the world’s problems was one of Trump’s campaign themes. But the implication is not necessarily, as some of his supporters hoped, that he would turn a blind eye to all atrocities and threats not already within America’s borders.

In the last century, most Americans recognized, in some cases with enormous reluctance, that there was no good alternative to doing whatever was necessary to rout the Nazis and communists, enemies whose goal was to kill off the democratic experiment.

In this century, jihadists and Islamists harbor the same ambition. We can attempt to appease them. We can try to make ourselves inoffensive to them. We can keep our hand extended, hoping that in time they will unclench their fists. Or we can decide instead to plan for a long war that will end with the defeat of these latest enemies of America and the rest of the civilized world. If Trump has grasped that within his first 100 days, he’s not off to such a bad start.

President Trump and King Abdullah II Hold a Joint Press Conference

April 5, 2017

President Trump and King Abdullah II Hold a Joint Press Conference, White House via YouTube, April 5, 2017

Leon Panetta enters the ‘No Spin Zone’

March 17, 2017

Leon Panetta enters the ‘No Spin Zone’, Fox News via YouTube, March 16, 2017

As the blurb beneath the video states,

Former CIA Director discusses U.S. troops in combat and American surveillance controversies on ‘The O’Reilly Factor’

The future of counterterrorism: Addressing the evolving threat to domestic security

March 1, 2017

The future of counterterrorism: Addressing the evolving threat to domestic security, Long War Journal, February 28, 2017

Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee Counterterrorism and Intelligence, on the future of counterterrorism and addressing the evolving threat to domestic security.

Chairman King, Ranking Member Rice, and other members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. The terrorist threat has evolved greatly since the September 11, 2001 hijackings. The U.S. arguably faces a more diverse set of threats today than ever. In my written and oral testimony, I intend to highlight both the scope of these threats, as well as some of what I think are the underappreciated risks.

My key points are as follows:

– The U.S. military and intelligence services have waged a prolific counterterrorism campaign to suppress threats to America. It is often argued that because no large-scale plot has been successful in the U.S. since 9/11 that the risk of such an attack is overblown. This argument ignores the fact that numerous plots, in various stages of development, have been thwarted since 2001. Meanwhile, Europe has been hit with larger-scale operations. In addition, the U.S. and its allies frequently target jihadists who are suspected of plotting against the West. America’s counterterrorism strategy is mainly intended to disrupt potentially significant operations that are in the pipeline.

-Over the past several years, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies claim to have struck numerous Islamic State (or ISIS) and al Qaeda “external operatives” in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. These so-called “external operatives” are involved in anti-Western plotting. Had they not been targeted, it is likely that at least some of their plans would have come to fruition. Importantly, it is likely that many “external operatives” remain in the game, and are still laying the groundwork for attacks in the U.S. and the West.

-In addition, the Islamic State and al Qaeda continue to adapt new messages in an attempt to inspire attacks abroad. U.S. law enforcement has been forced to spend significant resources to stop “inspired” plots. As we all know, some of them have not been thwarted. The Islamic State’s caliphate declaration in 2014 heightened the threat of inspired attacks, as would-be jihadists were lured to the false promises of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s cause.

-The Islamic State also developed a system for “remote-controlling” attacks in the West and elsewhere. This system relies on digital operatives who connect with aspiring jihadis via social media applications. The Islamic State has had more success with these types of small-scale operations in Europe. But as I explain in my written testimony, the FBI has uncovered a string of plots inside the U.S. involving these same virtual planners.

-The refugee crisis is predominately a humanitarian concern. The Islamic State has used migrant and refugee flows to infiltrate terrorists into Europe. Both the Islamic State and al Qaeda could seek to do the same with respect to the U.S., however, they have other means for sneaking jihadists into the country as well. While some terrorists have slipped into the West alongside refugees, the U.S. should remain focused on identifying specific threats.

-More than 15 years after 9/11, al Qaeda remains poorly understood. Most of al Qaeda’s resources are devoted to waging insurgencies in several countries. But as al Qaeda’s insurgency footprint has spread, so has the organization’s capacity for plotting against the West. On 9/11, al Qaeda’s anti-Western plotting was primarily confined to Afghanistan, with logistical support networks in Pakistan, Iran, and other countries. Testifying before the Senate in February 2016, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper warned that the al Qaeda threat to the West now emanates from multiple countries. Clapper testified that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.” To this list we can add Yemen. And jihadists from Africa have been involved in anti-Western plotting as well. Incredibly, al Qaeda is still plotting against the U.S. from Afghanistan.

Both the Islamic State and al Qaeda continue to seek ways to inspire terrorism inside the U.S. and they are using both new and old messages in pursuit of this goal.

The jihadists have long sought to inspire individuals or small groups of people to commit acts of terrorism for their cause. Individual terrorists are often described as “lone wolves,” but that term is misleading. If a person is acting in the name of a global, ideological cause, then he or she cannot be considered a “lone wolf,” even if the individual in question has zero contact with others. In fact, single attackers often express their support for the jihadists’ cause in ways that show the clear influence of propaganda.

Indeed, al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) first began to aggressively market the idea of “individual” or “lone” operations years ago. AQAP’s Inspire magazine is intended to provide would-be jihadists with everything they could need to commit an attack without professional training or contact. Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP ideologue who was fluent in English, was an especially effective advocate for these types of plots. Despite the fact that Awlaki was killed in a U.S. airstrike in September 2011, his teachings remain widely available on the internet.

The Islamic State capitalized on the groundwork laid by Awlaki and AQAP. In fact, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s operation took these ideas and aggressively marketed them with an added incentive. Al Qaeda has told its followers that it wants to eventually resurrect an Islamic caliphate. Beginning in mid-2014, the Islamic State began to tell its followers that it had already done so in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate has also instructed followers that it would be better for them to strike inside their home countries in the West, rather than migrate abroad for jihad. The Islamic State has consistently marketed this message.

In May 2016, for instance, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani told followers that if foreign governments “have shut the door of hijrah [migration] in your faces,” then they should “open the door of jihad in theirs,” meaning in the West. “Make your deed a source of their regret,” Adnani continued. “Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them.”

“If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State,” Adnani told his audience, “then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor.” Adnani told jihadists that they should “not make light of throwing a stone at a crusader in his land,” nor should they “underestimate any deed, as its consequences are great for the mujahidin and its effect is noxious to the disbelievers.”

The Islamic State continued to push this message after Adnani’s death in August 2016.

In at least several cases, we have seen individual jihadists who were first influenced by Awlaki and AQAP gravitate to the Islamic State’s cause. Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife were responsible for the December 2, 2015 San Bernardino massacre. They pledged allegiance to Baghdadi on social media, but Farook had drawn inspiration from Awlaki and AQAP’s Inspire years earlier.

Omar Mateen swore allegiance to Baghdadi repeatedly on the night of his assault on a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. However, a Muslim who knew Mateen previously reported to the FBI that Mateen was going down the extremist path. He told the FBI in 2014 that Mateen was watching Awlaki’s videos. It was not until approximately two years later, in early June 2016, that Mateen killed 49 people and wounded dozens more in the name of the supposed caliphate.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man who allegedly planted bombs throughout New York and New Jersey in September 2016, left behind a notebook. In it, Rahami mentioned Osama bin Laden, “guidance” from Awlaki, an also referenced Islamic State spokesman Adnani. Federal prosecutors wrote in the complaint that Rahami specifically wrote about “the instructions of terrorist leaders that, if travel is infeasible, to attack nonbelievers where they live.” This was Adnani’s key message, and remains a theme in Islamic State propaganda.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has alleged that other individuals who sought to support the Islamic State were first exposed to Awlaki’s teachings as well.

These cases demonstrate that the jihadis have developed a well of ideas from which individual adherents can draw, but it may take years for them to act on these beliefs, if they ever act on them at all. There is no question that the Islamic State has had greater success of late in influencing people to act in its name. But al Qaeda continues to produce recruiting materials and to experiment with new concepts for individual attacks as well.

Al Qaeda and its branches have recently called for revenge for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who died in a U.S. prison earlier this month. Rahman was convicted by a U.S. court for his involvement in plots against New York City landmarks in the mid-1990s. Since then, al Qaeda has used Rahman’s “will” to prophesize his death and to proactively blame the U.S. for it. Approximately 20 years after al Qaeda first started pushing this theme, Rahman finally died. Al Qaeda’s continued use of Rahman’s prediction, which is really just jihadist propaganda, demonstrates how these groups can use the same concepts for years, whether or not the facts are consistent with their messaging. Al Qaeda also recently published a kidnapping guide based on old lectures by Saif al Adel, a senior figure in the group. Al Adel may or may not be currently in Syria. Al Qaeda is using his lectures on kidnappings and hostage operations as a way to potentially teach others how to carry them out. The guide was published in both Arabic and English, meaning that al Qaeda seeks an audience in the West for al Adel’s designs.

Both the Islamic State and AQAP also continue to produce English-language magazines for online audiences. The 15th issue of Inspire, which was released last year, provided instructions for carrying out “professional assassinations.” AQAP has been creating lists of high-profile targets in the U.S. and elsewhere that they hope supporters will use in selecting potential victims. AQAP’s idea is to maximize the impact of “lone” attacks by focusing on wealthy businessmen or other well-known individuals. AQAP has advocated for, and praised, indiscriminate attacks as well. But the group has critiqued some attacks (such as the Orlando massacre at a LGBT nightclub) for supposedly muddying the jihadists’ message. AQAP is trying to lay the groundwork for more targeted operations. For example, the January 2015 assault on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris was set in motion by al Qaeda and AQAP. Inspire even specifically identified the intended victims beforehand. Al Qaeda would like individual actors, with no foreign ties, to emulate such precise hits.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State has lowered the bar for what is considered a successful attack, pushing people to use cars, knives, or whatever weapons they can get in their hands. The Islamic State claimed that both the September 2016 mall stabbings in Minnesota and the vehicular assault at Ohio State University in November 2016 were the work of its “soldiers.” It may be the case that there were no digital ties between these attackers and the Islamic State. However, there is often more to the story of how the Islamic State guides such small-scale operations.

The Islamic State has sought to carry out attacks inside the U.S. via “remote-controlled” terrorists.

A series of attacks in Europe and elsewhere around the globe have been carried out by jihadists who were in contact, via social media applications, with Islamic State handlers in Syria and Iraq. The so-called caliphate’s members have been able to remotely guide willing recruits through small-scale plots that did not require much sophistication. These plots targeted victims in France, Germany, Russia, and other countries. In some cases, terrorists have received virtual support right up until the moment of their attack. The Islamic State has had more success orchestrating “remote-controlled” plots in Europe, but the jihadist group has also tried to carry out similar plots inside the U.S.

Since 2015, if not earlier, the U.S.-led coalition has launched airstrikes against the Islamic State operatives responsible for these operations. Jihadists such Rachid Kassim, Junaid Hussain, and Abu Issa al Amriki have all been targeted. Both Hussain and al Amriki sought to “remotely-control” attacks inside the U.S. They have reached into other countries as well. For example, British Prime Minister David Cameron connected Hussain to plots in the UK. And Hussain’s wife, Sally Jones, has also reportedly used the web to connect with female recruits.

Kassim was tracked to a location near Mosul, Iraq earlier this month. Hussain was killed in an American airstrike in Raqqa, Syria on August 24, 2015. Along with his wife, al Amriki perished in an airstrike near Al Bab, Syria on April 22, 2016. But law enforcement officials are still dealing with their legacy and it is possible that others will continue with their methods.

In this section, I will briefly outline several cases in which Hussain and al Amriki were in contact with convicted or suspected terror recruits inside the U.S. In a number of cases, the FBI has used confidential informants or other methods in sting operations to stop these recruits. It should be noted that it is not always clear how much of a threat a suspect really posed and the press has questioned the FBI’s methods in some of these cases. I have included the examples below to demonstrate how the Islamic State’s digital operatives have contacted potential jihadists across the U.S.

For example, Hussain was likely in contact with the two gunmen who opened fire at an event dedicated to drawing pictures of the Prophet Mohammed in Garland, Texas on May 3, 2015. As first reported by the SITE Intelligence Group, Hussain (tweeting under one of his aliases) quickly claimed the gunmen were acting on behalf of the caliphate. Then, in June 2015, Hussain claimed on Twitter that he had encouraged Usaamah Rahim, an Islamic State supporter, to carry a knife in case anyone attempted to arrest him. Rahim was shot and killed by police in Boston after allegedly wielding the blade. The DOJ subsequently confirmed that Rahim was “was communicating with [Islamic State] members overseas, including Junaid Hussain.”

On July 7, 2016, Munir Abdulkader, of West Chester, Ohio, pleaded guilty to various terrorism-related charges. According to the DOJ, Abdulkader communicated with Hussain, who “directed and encouraged Abdulkader to plan and execute a violent attack within the United States.” In conversations with both Hussain and a “confidential human source,” Abdulkader discussed a plot “to kill an identified military employee on account of his position with the U.S. government.” Abdulkader planned to abduct “the employee at the employee’s home” and then film this person’s execution. After murdering the military employee, Abdulkader “planned to perpetrate a violent attack on a police station in the Southern District of Ohio using firearms and Molotov cocktails.” Hussain repeatedly encouraged Islamic State followers to attack U.S. military personnel, just as Abdulkader planned.

On August 11, 2016, Emanuel Lutchman of Rochester, New York pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State as part of a planned New Year’s Eve attack. Lutchman admittedly conspired with Abu Issa al Amriki after he “initiated online contact” with the Islamic State planner on Christmas Day 2015. “In a series of subsequent communications,” DOJ noted, al Amriki “told Lutchman to plan an attack on New Year’s Eve and kill a number of kuffar [nonbelievers].” Al Amriki wanted Lutchman “to write something before the attack and give it to” an Islamic State member, “so that after the attack the [Islamic State] member could post it online to announce Lutchman’s allegiance” to the so-called caliphate. Lutchman wanted to join the Islamic State overseas, but al Amriki encouraged him to strike inside the U.S., as it would better serve the jihadists’ cause. “New years [sic] is here soon,” al Amriki typed to Lutchman. “Do operations and kill some kuffar.” Al Amriki also promised Lutchman some assistance in traveling to Syria or Libya, if the conditions were right. Lutchman divulged his contacts with al Amriki to individuals who, “unbeknownst to Lutchman,” were “cooperating with the FBI.”

On November 7, 2016, Aaron Travis Daniels, also known as Harun Muhammad and Abu Yusef, was arrested at an airport in Columbus, Ohio. He was reportedly en route to Trinidad, but he allegedly intended to travel to Libya for jihad. According to DOJ, Daniels was in contact with Abu Issa al Amriki, who acted as a “recruiter and external attack planner.” Daniels said at one point that it was al Amriki who “suggested” he go to Libya “to support jihad” and he allegedly “wired money to an intermediary” for al Amriki. The DOJ did not allege that Daniels planned to commit an attack in Ohio or elsewhere inside the U.S. Still, the allegations are significant because Daniels was allegedly in contact with al Amriki.

On November 29, 2016, Justin Nojan Sullivan, of Morganton, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges. “Sullivan was in contact and plotted with now-deceased Syria-based terrorist Junaid Hussain to execute acts of mass violence in the United States in the name of the” Islamic State, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord said in a statement. Sullivan and Hussain “conspired” to “plan mass shooting attacks in North Carolina and Virginia,” with Sullivan intending “to kill hundreds of innocent people.”

On February 10, 2017, the DOJ announced that two New York City residents, Munther Omar Saleh and Fareed Mumuni, pleaded guilty to terror-related charges. “Working with [Islamic State] fighters located overseas, Saleh and Mumuni also coordinated their plot to conduct a terrorist attack in New York City,” the DOJ explained. Saleh, from Queens, sought and received instructions from an [Islamic State] attack facilitator to create a pressure-cooker bomb and discussed with the same [Islamic State] attack facilitator potential targets for a terrorist attack in New York City.” Saleh “also sought and received religious authorization from an [Islamic State] fighter permitting Mumuni to conduct a suicide ‘martyrdom’ attack by using a pressure-cooker bomb against law enforcement officers who were following the co-conspirators and thus preventing them from traveling to join” the Islamic State. Federal prosecutors revealed that the “attack facilitator” Saleh was talking to was, in fact, Junaid Hussain.

Also on February 10, 2017, Mohamed Bailor Jalloh, a Virginia man and former member of the Army National Guard, was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five years supervised release for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State. According to the DOJ, Jalloh was in contact with Islamic State members both in person and online. He met Islamic State members in Nigeria during a “six-month trip to Africa” and also “began communicating online with” an Islamic State member located overseas during this time. The Islamic State member “brokered” Jalloh’s “introduction” to the FBI’s confidential human source. This means the U.S. government’s intelligence was so good in this case that the digital handler was actually fooled into leading Jalloh into a dead-end. Still, Jalloh considered “conducting an attack similar to the terrorist attack at Ft. Hood, Texas,” which left 13 people dead and dozens more wounded.

More than 15 years after the 9/11 hijackings, al Qaeda is still plotting against the U.S.

Al Qaeda has not been able to replicate its most devastating attack in history, the September 11, 2001 hijackings. But this does not mean the al Qaeda threat has disappeared. Instead, al Qaeda has evolved. There are multiple explanations for why the U.S. has not been struck with another 9/11-style, mass casualty operation. These reasons include: the inherent difficulty in planning large-scale attacks, America’s improved defenses, and a prolific counterterrorism campaign overseas.

In addition, contrary to a widely-held assumption in counterterrorism circles, al Qaeda has not made striking the U.S. its sole priority. In fact, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri has even ordered his men in Syria to stand down at times, as they prioritized the war against Bashar al Assad’s regime over bombings, hijackings, or other assaults in the West. However, Zawahiri could change his calculation at any time, and it would then be up to America’s intelligence and law enforcement officials to detect and thwart specific plots launched from Syria. One additional caveat here is warranted. Despite the fact that Zawahiri has not given the final green light for an anti-Western operation launched from Syrian soil, al Qaeda has been laying the groundwork for such attacks in Syria and elsewhere. There is a risk that al Qaeda could seek to launch Mumbai-style attacks in American or European cities, bomb trains or other mass transit locations, plant sophisticated explosives on Western airliners, or dream up some other horrible attack.

In September 2014, the Obama administration announced that it launched airstrikes against al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group” in Syria. There was some confusion surrounding this group. The Khorasan Shura is an elite body within al Qaeda and part of this group is dedicated to launching “external operations,” that is, attacks in the West. Several significant leaders in the Khorasan Group were previously based in Iran, where al Qaeda maintains a core facilitation hub. In fact, at least two Khorasan figures previously headed al Qaeda’s Iran-based network, which shuttles operatives throughout the Middle East and sometimes into the West. As I have previously testified before this committee, some foiled al Qaeda plots against the West were facilitated by operatives based in Iran.

Al Qaeda began relocating senior operatives to Syria in 2011. And the U.S. has targeted known or obscure al Qaeda veterans in Syria in the years since, often citing their presumed threat to the U.S. and the West. I will not list all of these operatives here, but we regularly track the al Qaeda figures targeted in drone strikes at FDD’s Long War Journal.

During the final months of the Obama administration, American military and intelligence officials highlighted al Qaeda’s continued plotting against the U.S. on multiple occasions. And there was also a shift in America’s air campaign, from targeted strikes on individual al Qaeda operatives in Syria to bombings intended to destroy whole training camps or other facilities. In addition, the U.S. Treasury and State Departments began to designate terrorist leaders within al Qaeda’s branch in Syria who may not play any direct role in international operations. This change in tactics reflects the realization that al Qaeda has built its largest paramilitary force in history in Syria. And while only part of this force may have an eye on the West, there is often no easy way to delineate between jihadists involved in al Qaeda’s insurgency operations and those who are participating in plots against America or European nations.

In October 2016, the Defense Department announced that the U.S. had carried out “transregional” airstrikes against al Qaeda’s “external” operatives in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Al Qaeda “doesn’t recognize borders when they conspire to commit terrorist attacks against the West, and we will continue to work with our partners and allies to find and destroy their leaders, their fighters and their cells that are planning attacks externally,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said shortly after the bombings. Davis added that some of al Qaeda’s “external” plotters enjoyed a “friendly, hospitable environment” within Al Nusrah Front, which was the name used by al Qaeda’s guerrilla army in Syria until mid-2016. Davis added that the jihadists targeted “are people who are from outside Syria in many cases and who are focused on external operations.”

The Pentagon provided short descriptions for each of the al Qaeda operatives targeted in October 2016. On October 17, Haydar Kirkan was killed in Idlib, Syria. He was “a long-serving and experienced facilitator and courier for al Qaeda in Syria,” who “had ties to al Qaeda senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden.” Davis added that Kirkan “was al Qaeda’s senior external terror attack planner in Syria, Turkey and Europe.” Kirkan oversaw a significant network inside Turkey. The U.S. has killed a number of individuals with backgrounds similar to Kirkan since 2014.

On October 21, an AQAP leader known as Abu Hadi al-Bayhani and four others were killed in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen’s Marib governorate. The Pentagon tied al-Bayhani to AQAP’s “external” plotting, noting that the al Qaeda arm relies on “leaders like Bayhani to build and maintain safe havens” from which it “plans external operations.”

Then, on October 23, two senior al Qaeda leaders, Farouq al-Qahtani and Bilal al-Utabi, were killed in airstrikes in Afghanistan. Qahtani was one of al Qaeda’s most prominent figures in the Afghan insurgency, as he was the group’s emir for eastern Afghanistan and coordinated operations with the Taliban. Osama bin Laden’s files indicate that Qahtani was responsible for re-establishing al Qaeda’s safe havens in Afghanistan in 2010, if not earlier. But Qahtani was also tasked with plotting attacks in the West.

General John W. Nicholson, the Commander of NATO’s Resolute Support and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, described the threat posed by Qahtani in a recent interview with the CTC Sentinel, a publication produced by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Gen. Nicholson described Qahtani as al Qaeda’s “external operations director,” saying that he was “actively involved in the last year in plotting attacks against the United States.” Nicholson added this warning: “There’s active plotting against our homeland going on in Afghanistan. If we relieve pressure on this system, then they’re going to be able to advance their work more quickly than they would otherwise.”

Kirkan, Bayhani, and Qahtani are just some of the men involved in anti-Western plotting who have been killed in recent bombings. And these targeted airstrikes are just part of the picture.

In October 2015, the U.S. and its Afghan allies destroyed what was probably the largest al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan’s history in the Shorabak district of Kandahar. The facility was an estimated 30 square miles in size, making it bigger than any of al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 camps.

The U.S. military says that approximately 250 al Qaeda operatives were killed or captured in Afghanistan in 2016. This is far more than the U.S. government’s longstanding estimate for al Qaeda’s entire force structure in all of Afghanistan. For years, U.S. officials claimed there was just 50 to 100 al Qaeda jihadists throughout the entire country.

On January 20, the Defense Department announced that “more than 150 al Qaeda terrorists” had been killed in Syria since the beginning of 2017. In addition to individual terrorists involved in plotting against the West, the U.S. struck the Shaykh Sulayman training camp, which had been “operational since at least 2013.”

The reality is that al Qaeda now operates large training camps in more countries today than on 9/11. The next 9/11-style plotters could be in those camps, or fighting in jihadist insurgencies, right now. If so, it will be up to America’s offensive counterterrorism campaign and its defenses to stop them.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

The Significance, Ramifications, And Messages Of Hizbullah’s Show Of Military Force In Al-Qusayr, Syria

January 4, 2017

The Significance, Ramifications, And Messages Of Hizbullah’s Show Of Military Force In Al-Qusayr, Syria, MRMRI, Yael Yehoshua*, January 3, 2016

On November 13, 2016, Hizbullah marked its annual Martyr Day by holding its first military parade in a Syrian town, Al-Qusayr, which Hizbullah took over in 2013 following a long and bloody battle with rebel forces, and which has since become the main symbol of the organization’s involvement in the Syria war alongside the Assad regime. The parade featured hundreds of fighters in military uniforms, tanks, U.S.-made M113 armored personnel carriers, cannon, machine guns, and an armored regiment. Also marching was the Al-Radwan division, comprising some 10,000 fighters from Hizbullah’s “intervention forces” and “special forces” fighting in Syria, which constitute the spearhead of the organization in the country.[1]

By holding this parade at this time and at this location, Hizbullah was informing its rivals, locally and in the region – that is, political players in Lebanon, the Syrian rebels and their Arab supporters, and the West and Israel – that it is now a powerful cross-border military force that can control areas outside Lebanon’s borders. The parade did indeed cause a tremendous stir among Hizbullah supporters, as well as among the organization’s opponents.

This paper will review the significance and ramifications of the parade in Al-Qusayr and the messages that it sent.

1295aPhotos from the parade. Arabipress.org, November 13, 2016; Addiyar.com, November 14, 2016
1295bPhotos from the parade. Nn-lb.com, November 13, 2016

Hizbullah Underlines Its Presence On Syrian Soil

Hizbullah’s holding the parade on Syrian soil, particularly in Al-Qusayr, is a symbolic yet highly significant act showing the organization’s control of part of Syrian territory. Al-Qusayr is the jewel in the crown of Hizbullah’s  military involvement in Syria and is seared into the memories of the Syrian rebels as an arena in which they were defeated by Hizbullah in 2013 after a bitter battle that lasted weeks and involved many losses on both sides. Moreover, Al-Qusayr is also Hizbullah’s gateway into Syria. After capturing it from the rebels, Hizbullah emptied it of its residents and turned it into a center for its headquarters and into a staging area for its fighters arriving from Lebanon, from which they leave for other battle fronts in Syria.

Also, holding the parade on Syrian soil as opposed to Lebanese soil is a blatant attempt by Hizbullah to highlight its presence in Syria and signal that this presence has become a known, established and certain fact. It may also reflect Hizbullah’s view of Al-Qusayr and its surroundings as its own military territory, and not as Syrian territory – with no consideration whatsoever for Syria’s sovereignty or for Lebanon’s position on this. [2] Hizbullah deputy secretary general Na’im Qassem hinted at this when he said, several days after the parade: “We are in Syria, and we do not need to give any explanation or justification for this. We stand alongside the Syrian army and the Syrian state.”[3]

Qassem’s statements were backed up by statements by Lebanese Army Gen. (ret.) Amin Hatit, who is close to Hizbullah: “Hizbullah’s presence in Syria is something basic… As far as we are concerned, there is no difference between Al-Qusayr and South [Lebanon].”[4]

By holding it on its Martyr Day, Hizbullah also intended the parade to convey a message to the Shi’ite public in Lebanon, which supports Hizbullah and is the source of its political power and its fighters, that despite its losses Hizbullah has remained strong. For Lebanese Shi’ites, many of whom have been killed and wounded in the past four years of Hizbullah’s fighting in Syria, and particularly in the ongoing battle for Aleppo, the parade was meant to boost morale and signal that the losses had not been in vain but had only further strengthened the organization and made it possible for it to become a regional power.

Hizbullah’s Transition From A Resistance Force To A Quasi-Regular Army

Hizbullah’s demonstration of its military strength by parading hundreds of its soldiers with tanks, cannon, machine guns, and so on also reflected its wish to send the message that it was now a well-trained and well-armed force, with new units, resembling an experienced regular army, and was no longer a resistance militia waging guerilla warfare against Israel.

This upgrade of its military and deterrence capabilities is the result of its military experience in Syria fighting the anti-regime rebels. In this context, Lebanese daily newspapers quoted Na’im Qassem making statements about Hizbullah’s military capability. The Lebanese Al-Mudun daily quoted Qassem as saying: “Hizbullah has added expertise, fighting capability, and military capabilities. This force is becoming more powerful and more developed, into something greater than resistance and less than a regular army.”[5] The Al-Safir daily quoted him as saying: “Now we have a trained army and the resistance is no longer based on methods of guerilla warfare. We are better armed and better trained, and we have advanced professional knowledge.”[6] It should be noted that an official Hizbullah communique denied that Qassem had called Hizbullah an army.[7]

It appears that Hizbullah’s show of strength at this time was because of achievements in the field by both it and its camp, the resistance axis. These achievements included the strengthening of Hizbullah, the Syrian army, and the militias that have been operating alongside the Syrian army since the beginning of Russia’s military involvement in Syria over a year ago along with the upsurge in the political status of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the Arab world and in the West, and the bolstering of Iran’s regional and international status because of its increased military presence in Iraq and Syria and in the wake of the nuclear agreement and the election of the Hizbullah ally Michel Aoun to the Lebanese presidency.

 

Hizbullah As A Cross-Border Regional Force

Alongside the messages it sent locally, the parade was aimed at letting the region know that Hizbullah is a cross-border military force that is not bound by any particular territory and does not recognize the Syria-Lebanon border, or other borders between Middle East states, set by the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Hizbullah and its sponsor, Iran, which itself is striving to spread its Islamic Revolution and “Rule of the Jurisprudent” doctrine, do not consider geographic borders to be significant, and are deepening their penetration of many countries in the region. This approach is expressed by the military involvement of Iran and its agents in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and by Hizbullah’s complete military control of part of Syrian soil, including the Al-Qusayr region.

The military parade sent a message not only to the rebels in Syria, but also to their sponsors in the Arab and Muslim world – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey – underlining that the resistance axis in Syria has the upper hand, and that Hizbullah will not hesitate to show its power anywhere it needs to in order to subjugate its opponents. On this matter, Lebanese Army Gen. (ret.) Amin Hatit said: “Had Hizbullah wanted to send a message to Lebanon, it would have held the demonstration there, not in Syria, and what it did in Al-Qusayr is a message to the region.”[8]

In an interview with the Iranian website Tasnim, which is close to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qassem said: “If we want to look [at this] realistically, we see that Hizbullah has become a regional power. The way in which Hizbullah is confronting both the Zionist enemy and the takfiriyyoun [i.e. the Salafi-jihadi organizations]… shows that the organization is a regional power, and the changes in the region are proof of that.”[9]

Also, Nasser Qandil, editor of the pro-Syria Lebanese daily Al-Bina and an Assad associate, wrote in a November 16, 2016 article titled “Hizbullah – The New Middle East Army” that the organization is a cross-border force and that the borders between countries mean nothing to it. He stated that Hizbullah has become the “Middle East Army” because of its military capabilities and because it is a military force that crosses borders, and that it has achieved this by virtue of the popular organizations in the region that assist it, which comprise approximately a million fighters spread across the Middle East. These forces share its wars and its positions, and see Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah as a leader “with special status and as a source of authority for the wars in the Middle East.” He added that in actuality Hizbullah “has torn up Sykes-Picot” by transforming the areas of Syria that border Lebanon’s east and northeast into a “direct and vital continuation of the resistance.”

In this context, Qandil added that as Israel’s military strength and Saudi Arabia’s economic and political strength were waning, and as Al-Qaeda was failing, and as the U.S. was more preoccupied with domestic affairs and Russia was concerned about neutralizing other regional forces such as Turkey, “Hizbullah and the network of its allies is developing, becoming like a soft-[power] state that lives in the bosom of several countries. [Hizbullah] is not a rival [to the states on whose soil it exists], but complements them, living and developing at their consent as a deterrent force and as added strategic value. Thus, this force is becoming the most important fact emerging with the beginning of the 21st century… and no force in existence can threaten the growth of this new army of the Middle East that is deployed from Lebanon to Afghanistan, and from Aleppo to Bab Al-Mandeb.”[10]

 

Hizbullah As An Independent Force Operating Outside Lebanese Laws And Institutions

The Al-Qusayr military parade has great significance also vis-à-vis Lebanon. Hizbullah’s control in the Al-Qusayr region erases the Lebanon-Syria border and creates a single large, contiguous swath of territory from Syria to the northern Beqa’a, one of its strongholds in Lebanon, without the Lebanese government’s agreement and under harsh criticism from various political elements in that country.[11]

By holding the parade, Hizbullah has again proven, to Lebanon and to the entire world, that it is not subject to Lebanon’s laws and institutions, but that it operates according to its own interests and the interests of Iran and the resistance axis. As far as it is concerned, its presence in Syria depends solely on it, not on any decision by the Lebanese state. On this, Qassem said: “We stand alongside the Syrian army and the Syrian state, and without our intervention in Syria, the terrorists would enter every place in Lebanon. The issue of our involvement in Syria is no longer under discussion by Lebanese circles.”[12]

This message was discordant to Hizbullah’s opponents within Lebanon, who expressed harsh criticism of the Al-Qusayr parade. Ashraf Rifi, justice minister in Lebanon’s interim government, a bitter enemy of Hizbullah, said that this parade sends a message threatening Lebanon’s sovereignty. He tweeted: “Hizbullah has blatantly shown its military strength in occupied Syria… What will ‘the strong president’ [Michel Aoun] say about the armed militia that has become an army that is participating in the occupation of Syria, and dividing and killing its people?” He added that “Lebanon is in danger” and called on all the forces opposing the Iranian sponsorship of Lebanon to act together “to save Lebanon that Hizbullah has exploited with shari’a backing and has turned into a platform in service of Iran’s plans.”[13]

Other criticism came from Ali Al-Husseini, in his column in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, associated with the March 14 Forces: “It is odd that this parade was held at the same time as preparations were being carried out by the Lebanese army for [Lebanon’s November 22] Independence Day… The message to Lebanon is that Hizbullah is an independent force that is not subjugate to the laws of the Lebanese state and does not want [Lebanon] to be independent… Hizbullah has established itself as an occupier and has declared Al-Qusayr and other regions [in Syria] to be under its control and its aegis from now on, and declared that negotiation on them in the future will be only with [Hizbullah] and according to its conditions.”[14]

 

Hizbullah As A Deterrent Force In Lebanon’s Internal Politics

Hizbullah’s parade, which also came several weeks after its ally Michel Aoun was elected Lebanon’s president,[15] and at the height of consultations for the establishment of a new government headed by Sa’ad Al-Hariri, head of the Al-Mustaqbal stream, was also a way of flexing its muscles at various forces in Lebanon’s political arena, particularly at President Aoun and his party which are still considered Hizbullah allies. This show of strength was aimed at reiterating that the organization had military power and that it would not agree to any changes to the political balance of power that were not in its favor, and would also not allow its weapons to be touched.

While Aoun’s election was considered a victory for Hizbullah and for the March 8 Forces that it heads, there is, according to reports in the Lebanese media, great apprehension in Hizbullah and in the March 8 Forces that Aoun will end his sweeping support for the resistance, and will moderate his stance, compromise, and lean more towards the center than he has in the past, and will show neutrality towards both the March 14 Forces and the March 8 Forces.

The cooperation between Aoun (who represents the majority of Christians in the country after forming an alliance with the Christian Lebanese Forces party led by Samir Geagea) and Al-Hariri (who represents the majority of Sunnis) – cooperation which led to Aoun’s election and to the appointment of Al-Hariri to establish the next government – is also of concern to the Shi’ite Hizbullah. Its main fear stems from the possibility of shifts in the political power balance in the country, because Aoun’s alliance with Hizbullah foe Geagea has created a powerful, cohesive Christian group that has shared out the government portfolios among its members, at the expense of the other Christian parties who belong to the March 8 Forces – and Aoun is likely to prioritize this powerful Christian group over his alliance with Hizbullah and his support for the resistance.

These apprehensions also increased following visits by Saudi and Qatari emissaries to Aoun, following which the latter promised that Saudi Arabia will be the first stop on his visits to Arab countries, and in light of his statement, as part of his wish to establish Lebanon as an independent actor, that Lebanon under his leadership would “adopt an independent policy and will not be subjugated to anyone.”[16]

 

Hizbullah As An Anti-Israel Deterrent Force From Both Lebanese And Syrian Territory

Hizbullah also used the parade to convey a message about its position on a war against Israel. In light of its military involvement in Syria fighting the rebels alongside the Assad regime, Hizbullah was accused by elements in and out of Lebanon of abandoning the path of resistance against Israel, and of having become an accessory to the Iranian plan to eliminate the Sunni presence in Syria. In response, with the parade, Hizbullah sought to clarify that establishing its might in Syria was part of the plan of the resistance that serves its war against Israel and intensifies its anti-Israel deterrence. On this topic, Na’im Qassem said that upgrading Hizbullah’s capabilities and transforming it into a real military force “is sufficient to deter the Israeli enemy.”[17]

That the parade was an attempt by Hizbullah to demonstrate its strength to Israel was also expressed by the fact that the main element marching in it was from the Al Radwan division, revealed here for the first time. According to a Lebanese source,[18] this division was thought up by the late Hizbullah chief of staff ‘Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in 2008, and comprises some 10,000 fighters trained at Hizbullah bases specifically built for this purpose in Al-Qusayr. The division was initially established to invade Israel’s Galilee during the next conflict there, but is right now fighting the rebels in Syria and gaining combat experience, and Hizbullah considers it its spearhead in Syria. Having fighters from this division marching in the parade is a message to Israel that the Al-Radwan division, which it considers a deterring force against Israel, is complete and ready for action against it at a moment’s notice.

‘Abdallah Kamah wrote on the Lebanese website Alhadathnews.net: “At a time when the warriors of the Al-Radwan [division] are fighting and gaining combat experience in Syria, they see the Galilee as their strategic goal. In order to achieve this goal, we must prepare for a war [with Israel], which ‘Imad Mughniyeh had said ‘would be different from those that came before it.’ This difference opens the door to adopt new [combat] methods, because this campaign will not be the same as in the past, when it was conducted according to a scenario where the enemy invades and the resistance ambushes and charges, or fires rockets from groves and using mobile, manually-operated, ground-based launchers. Moreover, the next war, as Hizbullah showed yesterday, will be more offensive than defensive, and will include armored vehicles entering the occupied Upper Galilee.”[19] It should be mentioned in this context that in a February 2011 speech marking the third anniversary of Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel, and warned that in the next conflict he would order his men to take over the Galilee.[20]

Moreover, by holding the parade on Syrian soil, Hizbullah challenged Israel’s opposition to the establishment of Hizbullah forces in Syria, specifically in the Golan Heights. Increasing its presence in the Syrian Golan is part of the organization’s plan to expand the arena of conflict with Israel from southern Lebanon to the Golan Heights, and transform them into a single front that transcends political borders. Back in January 2016, Nasrallah stated that Hizbullah will no longer recognize either the rules of combat with Israel or the separation between the South Lebanon and Golan Heights fronts.[21] In May 2016, Ibrahim Al-Amin, head of the board of directors of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, stated that the organization had established a resistance infrastructure in the Syrian Golan Heights with the help of local residents.[22]

In an article published a few days after the parade, the political editor of the Lebanese daily Al-Safir implied that that one of the reasons Hizbullah is establishing itself in Syria is to open an additional front against Israel in the Golan Heights: “The weapons displayed by Hizbullah [at the parade] are weapons that [regular] armies have, and this is a clear message to Israel that the arena for every future campaign will absolutely not be limited to certain Lebanese borders and to a local population that either does or does not support [the resistance], but will rather be an arena that is more energetic, deeper, and broader – strategically, geographically, and militarily.”[23]

*Yael Yehoshua is Vice President for Research and Director of MEMRI Israel

 

 

[1] For more on the military parade, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6677, Special Dispatch No. 6677, Hizbullah Military Parade In Syrian Town Of Al-Qusayr: Tanks, Cannon, And Machine Guns, November 14, 2016. It should be noted that the Lebanese army denied claims that the M113 APCs and other military equipment in the parade belonged to it. Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 15, 2016.

[2] Al-Mudun (Lebanon), November 16, 2016.

[3] Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 16, 2016.

[4] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 14, 2016.

[5] Al-Mudun (Lebanon), November 16, 2016.

[6] Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 16, 2016.

[7] Alahednews.com, November 16, 2016.

[8] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 14, 2016.

[9] Tasnim (Iran), November 22, 2016.

[10] Al-Bina (Lebanon), November 16, 2016.

[11] For more on Lebanese criticism of Hizbullah’s involvement in the fighting in Syria, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 980, Lebanon Openly Enters Fighting In Syria, June 13, 2013; Special Dispatch No. 6383, Lebanese Writer: Hizbullah Is No Longer A Resistance Organization, But An Occupier And Target For Resistance, April 12, 2016; Inquiry & Analysis No. 1147, Lebanese Elements Furious Over Hizbullah’s Activity In Golan, Shebaa Farms, Critical Of Nasrallah’s Statements About Uniting Lebanese, Syrian Resistance Fronts, March 11, 2016.

[12] Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 16, 2016.

[13] Twitter.com/Ashraf_Rifi, November 14, 2016.

[14] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 15, 2016.

[15] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1276, Al-Hariri’s Choice Of Hizbullah Ally Aoun For Lebanese Presidency Is Another March 14 Forces Concession To Pro-Iran Axis, October 28, 2016.

[16] Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 12, 2016; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 26, 2016.

[17] Al-Mudun (Lebanon), November 16, 2016.

[18] For example, Alhadathnews.net, November 15, 2016.

[19] Alhadathnews.net, November 15, 2016.

[20] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 17, 2011. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6051, The Emergence Of ‘Galilee Force’ – Palestinian Forces Fighting Alongside Syrian Regime, May 20, 2015.

[21] For Lebanese criticism of Nasrallah’s statement, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5994, Lebanese Elements Furious Over Hizbullah’s Activity In Golan, Shebaa Farms; Slam Nasrallah’s Statements About Uniting Lebanese, Syrian Resistance Fronts, March 10, 2015; For more on Hizbullah and Iranian IRGC activity in the Syrian Golan on the Israeli border, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1138, Following Killing Of Hizbullah Operative Jihad Mughniyah, New Information Comes To Light Regarding Hizbullah, Iranian Activity In Syrian Golan On Israeli Border, January 28, 2015; MEMRI Daily Brief No. 1146, From The Mediterranean to the Golan, Iran Builds Active Front And Direct Military Presence On Israel’s Border To Deter Israel And Further Ideology Of Eliminating The Zionist Regime, February 16, 2015.

[22] For more on Hizbullah’s activity in the Golan, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6039, Board Chairman Of Pro-Hizbullah Lebanese Daily: Hizbullah Has Established Resistance Infrastructure In Syrian Golan In Cooperation With Locals, April 30, 2015.

[23] Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 16, 2016.

Why Trump’s bid to amplify Muslim reformers will keep Americans safer

December 30, 2016

Why Trump’s bid to amplify Muslim reformers will keep Americans safer, The Hill, Cynthis Farahat, December 29, 2016

sisi_egypt_president_458617936© Getty Images

Sisi’s supporters say the Obama administration’s tolerance of Islamism and harsh criticism of Egypt’s counter-terrorism efforts have been an enormous obstacle. In contrast, Trump’s campaign expressed “strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism” and pledged that “under a Trump Administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.”

**********************************

The recent terror attacks in Berlin and Zurich highlight once again the danger that radical Islamism poses to the West. While many are searching for ways to improve security and defeat the threat on the ground, few appear to appreciate that the decisive blow against Islamism can only be administered by leaders in the Middle East.

President-elect Donald Trump pledged during his last major foreign policy speech before the election to “be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East” “amplify their voices.”

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and most of the political and media establishment in Egypt warmly embraced this policy. After meeting with the Republican nominee on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, Sisi told CNN he had “no doubt” Trump would make a strong leader. Sisi was also the first Arab leader to telephone Trump after his election win.

Egyptian affections for Trump are partly fueled by distaste for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who many Egyptians believe conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood to help elect Islamist Muhammad Morsi as president in 2012 (after which she was greeted in Egypt with protestors hurling tomatoes).

However, the main attraction of Trump in the eyes of many Egyptians is his staunch anti-Islamism.

Since coming to power in 2013, Sisi has spoken passionately about the need for an Islamic reformation. For Sisi, Islamism isn’t merely a ruinously bad blueprint for modern governance and a chronic source of security threats, it is also a wedge fueling outside hostility to Muslims, both Islamists and non-Islamists alike. In a 2015 New Year’s Day speech at al-Azhar University, the world’s most prestigious seat of Sunni Islamic learning, Sisi warned that the “corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years” are “antagonizing the entire world” and “caus[ing] the entire umma [Muslim world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction.”

Not surprisingly, Sisi has faced opposition in the region, especially from Turkey, Qatar, and powerful figures in the Saudi royal family, who have opened their media to Brotherhood operatives to attack Sisi and even call for his assassination. One of the only Arab governments openly backing Sisi’s uncompromising stance on Islamists is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which in 2014 designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization (along with two of its U.S.-based affiliates, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Society).

Within Egypt, Sisi’s calls for a religious revolution have made him extremely popular, but he has faced fierce resistance from Islamists, who still dominate many sectors of Egyptian civil society and exert influence in government, particularly the judiciary.

Sisi’s supporters say the Obama administration’s tolerance of Islamism and harsh criticism of Egypt’s counter-terrorism efforts have been an enormous obstacle. In contrast, Trump’s campaign expressed “strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism” and pledged that “under a Trump Administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.” Walid Phares, a foreign policy advisor for the president-elect, stated in an interview that Trump will work to pass legislation designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Trump’s election appears to have emboldened Sisi to step up his Islamic reformation campaign. Just days later, Sisi pardoned 82 prisoners, among them Islam Behery, a former TV host and prominent leader of a growing neo-Mu’tazilah-style movement that claims Islamic scriptures are man-made and should not overrule reason and critical thinking.

Behery’s movement has gained sweeping popularity as horrors committed by Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and other Sunni jihadist groups have mounted in recent years.

Many across the Arab world, and Egyptians in particular, are hopeful that the election of Donald Trump will open a new page of cooperation between the United States and those who are seeking to challenge Islamic extremism in the war of ideas. Only together can we defeat the Islamists wreaking carnage on the streets in the West.

Cynthia Farahat is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Maqal.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.;