New study documents views of defectors from Islamic State

Islamic State convoy in SyriaA new study by a British-based organization details for the first time the views of dozens of former Islamic State fighters who have defected from the group in the past year. The study shows that most defectors were disillusioned after witnessing high levels of corruption among Islamic State members, or in response to the extreme violence perpetrated by the group against other Sunni Muslims. The research was carried out by the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR), which said it gathered the publicly expressed views of nearly 60 Islamic State members who left the organization between August 2014 and August 2015.

According to ICSR Director Peter Neumann, who authored the report (.pdf), just over 30 percent of the defectors from the Islamic State are Syrian citizens, while one in four were born in other Middle Eastern countries. Neumann told a press conference held in London on Monday that many of the defectors saw life under the rule of the Islamic State as too austere. They also believed that the group was too unforgiving against fellow Sunni Muslims who did not agree with its stern doctrine. Some of the defectors complained that Islamic State commanders were more interested in launching attacks against other Sunni rebel groups than against the government of Syria, which is ostensibly the Islamic State’s foremost rival. Additionally, some defectors said that Islamic State commanders were obsessed and paranoid about alleged traitors and spies within the group’s ranks, and that they often ordered the execution of Islamic State fighters based on little or no evidence.

A smaller number of defectors said they had experienced racism from other Islamic State members, while others said that combat duties under Islamic State command was neither action-filled nor heroic. Moreover, luxury goods looted from civilians were rarely handed down to regular Islamic State troops by their commanders. Some defectors also stated that non-Arab fighters were used “as cannon fodder” by the Islamic State in battles that took place in Syria and Iraq. Neumann told reporters on Monday that the ICSR study challenged the portrayal of harmony and dedication that the Islamic State had carefully cultivated on social media.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2015 | Permalink

British spy testifies in disguise in alleged al-Qaeda member’s trial

MI5 HQ Thames HouseBy IAN ALLEN |
A heavily disguised British intelligence officer has given evidence in the trial of the alleged leader of an al-Qaeda cell who is being tried in the United States for planning to bomb the New York subway system. Abid Naseer, 28, from Pakistan, was a studying in Britain in April 2009, when he was arrested by British police along with 12 other people for allegedly planning a series of suicide bombings in a popular shopping center in the city of Manchester. In January 2013, however, he was extradited to the US, where he also faces changes of having tried to organize suicide attacks against the New York public transportation system.

American prosecutors claim Naseer received paramilitary training in Pakistan before moving to the UK intent on carrying out terrorist attacks. Last year, the prosecution asked the judge whether six intelligence officers from the UK’s Security Service (also known as MI5), who monitored Naseer’s activities in the months leading up to his arrest, could provide evidence in court. Moreover, the prosecution requested that the MI5 officers be allowed to provide evidence without revealing their identities, since they work as surveillance operatives and are currently involved in counterterrorism investigations. The judge agreed, and the first of the six MI5 officers gave evidence this week through a video link from an undisclosed location in the Britain.

The witness concealed his identity by wearing a false goatee beard, thick spectacles and what reporters described as “a long black wig”. He was also wearing heavy make-up and was identified in court only as “serial number 1603”, according to British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. He told the court that he was part of a large team of MI5 surveillance officers who closely followed Naseer for over a month while he was allegedly planning suicide operations in Britain and the US. The physical surveillance included following the suspect as he was scouting targets in Manchester and sitting behind him on a bus traveling from Manchester to Liverpool. Naseer is defending himself in the trial and had the chance to cross-examine the MI5 officer, said The Telegraph.

Opinion: Paris attackers bring Mideast urban warfare to Europe

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* |
Until Wednesday morning, the last time the offices of Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known satirical weekly, were attacked was on November 2, 2011. On that day, unknown assailants had thrown Molotov cocktails into the premises, setting them on fire. Since that attack, France has seen its share of Islamist-inspired terrorist incidents. In March of 2012, French citizen Mohammed Merah shot dead three French soldiers before attacking a Jewish school in Toulouse, where he killed three students and a teacher. Last May, authorities in Marseille arrested another Frenchman, Mehdi Nemmouche, for opening fire at a Jewish museum in Belgian capital Brussels earlier that month, killing a French national and two Israeli citizens. And the French public has been shocked in recent months by a number of seemingly random attacks on pedestrians by vehicles driven by Muslim Frenchmen, who appear to be politically motivated.

The common thread running through these incidents is that they were all haphazardly planned and executed by ‘lone-wolf’ attackers, who were markedly limited in both resources and skill. But the men implicated in Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead, were different. The two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, who are said to be the main perpetrators of the assault, are believed to have “returned to France from Syria in the last year”, according to MSNBC. Undoubtedly, the two siblings saw action in the Syrian armed conflict, which is primarily fought in urban settings, and were systematically trained in urban warfare by men with considerable experience in it.

This explains their proficient delivery on Wednesday, as shown in the footage of the bloody attack, which has emerged since. The assailants arrived at their target carrying Kalashnikov rifles and magazines, neither of which can be easily acquired in France. Once inside the building, they remained there for a good 12 minutes, carefully executing their victims, some of whom they methodically sought out by name. They exited just as they entered, calm and collected. Even when they encountered a police vehicle, they stopped, aimed and shot at its passengers with considerable discipline, firing single or —in a handful of cases— double shots, instead of opting for bursts of rapid fire, which is the hallmark of inexperienced users of automatic rifles in moments of panic. After executing the police officers, they calmly walked back into their getaway vehicle and slowly drove away. It has been reported that at no point did they break the speed limit during their escape. Read more of this post

Yemeni troops kill al-Qaeda suspects disguised as women

Yemeni women in Ta'izzBy IAN ALLEN |
Troops in Yemen shot dead five men, believed to be members of al-Qaeda, who tried to pass through a security checkpoint disguised as women. The incident reportedly happened on Saturday at an emergency roadside checkpoint set up by Yemeni troops in Harad, a dusty desert town located 10 miles south of Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. According to official reports, a minivan drove up to the checkpoint carrying what appeared to be six women, which was heading toward the Saudi border. All passengers were dressed in black robes and wore the niqab, a black cloth used to hide the face and worn along with the hijab, which typically covers a woman’s hair. The niqab is worn in several Arab countries, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain. Yemeni soldiers conferred briefly with the male driver of the vehicle before one of them climbed onboard the minivan for a routine inspection. At that moment, one of the minivan passengers opened fire at the soldier, wounding him. The rest of the members of the inspection unit then opened fire on the passengers, killing five of them. Following the incident, the Yemeni soldiers discovered that the minivan’s passengers were all men and had been armed. An official speaking at a press conference later that day reported that at least two of those killed were Saudi citizens. He added that one of the passengers, who was also disguised as a woman, survived, as did the male driver of the minivan. All are believed to be members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an armed Islamist movement that is widely seen as the most formidable branch of al-Qaeda anywhere in the world. Following the 2011 uprising in Yemen, which was part of the Arab Spring, AQAP took advantage of the collapse of the Yemeni state and took over large swathes of territory in Sunni-dominated eastern and southern Yemen. These areas are still considered AQAP strongholds today. Security forces in Yemen often conduct roadside inspections, but they rarely enter vehicles carrying women, in an attempt to respect tribal customs in what is a very conservative part of the Arab world. Authorities in Harad said on Saturday that, following the shootout, a suicide belt and several weapons were discovered onboard the minivan. The surviving passenger is being questioned, along with the driver of the vehicle.

Ex-MI6 counterterror chief urges caution in tackling ISIS threat

Richard BarrettBy IAN ALLEN |
Britain should not hurriedly change its laws to counter the perceived danger posed by homegrown militants that have joined the Islamic State, according to the former head of counterterrorism for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Richard Barrett, a former diplomat, served as Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and is considered an international authority on counterterrorism. He told The Guardian newspaper that it would be wrong for the British government to introduce legislation effectively criminalizing travel to Iraq or Syria by British subjects. Barrett was responding to a newspaper article by London mayor Boris Johnson, who criticized Britain’s conservative government for not taking active steps to prevent British citizens form traveling to Syria and Iraq in order to join the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Johnson said he supported calls for British members of the Islamic State to be stripped of their British citizenship, even if that meant they would be left stateless —a violation of United Nations law. The London mayor further suggested that all British citizens travelling to Syria and Iraq without first notifying the government, should be legally considered as having traveled there “for a terrorist purpose”. He added that the burden should be on them to prove that they were “acting innocently” while abroad. But Barrett dismissed Johnson’s proposals, saying that they would cancel age-old principles of British common law and could potentially criminalize British citizens who traveled to the Middle East for legitimate purposes. Read more of this post

White man allegedly led Kenya Islamist attack that killed 60

Mpeketoni, KenyaBy IAN ALLEN |
Survivors of a militant Islamist attack on a Kenyan coastal town said they witnessed a white man speaking in English and Arabic coordinating the operation that left 60 people dead. The bloody attack took place on Sunday in Mpeketoni, a small town located near the Kenya’s Lamu archipelago on the Indian Ocean. Witnesses said a group of 40 heavily armed men stormed the town in small teams and took it over last Sunday morning. Once they had established control, they visited almost every house asking residents if they were Muslim. If they failed to pass a simple test, they were executed on the spot. The attack is believed to have been carried out by al-Shabaab, a Somali-based Islamist group that has links to al-Qaeda. But survivors of the horrific raid have told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph that the leader of the attackers was “pale-skinned” and “spoke English and Arabic”. The paper quoted Mpeketoni schoolteacher Mary Gachoki, who said she saw “a white man who was speaking in fluent British English commanding the rest of the attackers”. The Telegraph report cited the accounts of several more witnesses, including a woman who saw “a white man” among the attackers, who “was commanding them and was shooting now and then”. She added that “at one point he spoke in Arabic but most of the time in English”, with a British accent. One witness said the pale skinned man “was either white or an Arab”. These accounts are believed to strengthen the view that the attack was indeed carried over by al-Shabaab. The group has strong links with foreign Arab or European-born Islamists who routinely travel to Somalia to join the group’s ranks. But the claims also bring to mind similar allegations made following last September’s attack at the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Kenyan capital Nairobi, which killed nearly 70 people. Read more of this post

British, American citizens among Kenya shopping center attackers

Westgate shpping mallBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
Several Americans and at least one British subject were allegedly involved in planning and carrying out the armed attack on a shopping center in Kenya last week, according to the Kenyan government. The bloody attack was carried out on September 21 at the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Kenyan capital Nairobi. At least 15 attackers stormed the shopping complex and executed several shoppers in cold blood, before proceeding to take several people hostage. Responsibility for the attack has been claimed by Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab. The group has been at war with the Kenyan government since October of 2011, when Kenyan troops invaded Somalian territory. The group said that the attack had been carried out as retribution for Kenya’s invasion of Somalia. Kenyan officials have so far refused to speculate on the precise identity of the perpetrators of the Westgate attack. But on Tuesday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said during a televised address to the nation that some of the identities of the armed militants who stormed the complex had been confirmed. He added that the perpetrators included a British woman and “two or three” American citizens. A few hours later, Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed, said during a press conference that, according to information currently available, “one Brit[ish subject], a woman”, had been involved in the attack. She added that the female suspect “has done this many times before”, implying that she is a seasoned Islamist militant. Minister Mohamed added that “two or three Americans […], aged about 18 or 19”, were also involved in the attack, adding that they were Arab or Somali in origin and had moved to Africa from “Minnesota and one other place” in the United States. Read more of this post


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