A battle near a factory believed to be one of the Syrian regime’s main chemical weapons plants shows just how close such weapons could be to falling into al-Qaeda’s hands
Set amid the rolling plains outside Aleppo, the town of al-Safira looks just like another vicious battleground in Syria’s civil war. On one side are lightly-armed rebels, on the other are government troops, and in between is a hotly-contested no-man’s land of bombed-out homes and burned-out military vehicles.
The fight for al-Safira is no ordinary turf war, however, and the prize can be found behind the perimeter walls of the heavily-guarded military base on the edge of town. Inside what looks like a drab industrial estate is one of Syria’s main facilities for producing chemical weapons - and among its products is sarin, the lethal nerve gas that the regime is now feared to be deploying in its bid to cling to power.
Last week, Washington said for the first time that it had evidence of Sarin being used in “small” amounts during combat operations in Syria, a move that President Barack Obama has long warned is a “red line” that President Bashar al-Assad must not cross.
But as the West now ponders its response, the fear is not just that President Assad might start using his chemical arsenal in much greater quantities. Of equal concern is the prospect of it falling into even less benign hands - a risk that the stand-off at al Safira illustrates clearly.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s public boasting of its role in spawning and supervising Syria’s Al-Nusra Front could backfire on the jihadist rebel group’s support on the ground, analysts say.
The announcement, in an audio message posted on jihadist forums, confirmed widespread suspicions of links between the two organisations, both of which are blacklisted as terror groups by Washington.
But the move could undermine support for Al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra in Arabic, which has been credited with playing a major role in rebel gains against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, analysts said.
“This could potentially hurt Jabhat al-Nusra within the country, which would then affect the insurgency on some level,” Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said.
“Jabhat al-Nusra has got a really good reputation in the country, and the name Al-Qaeda is discredited throughout most of the Muslim world at this point.
“Do people not remember what the guys in Iraq did five years ago?” he asked, referring to the group’s reputation for brutality to civilians during the height of Iraq’s bloody sectarian conflict.
Alleged Al-Qaeda Operative Charged In New York For Terrorism Offenses Against Americans Overseas
A six-count indictment was unsealed today in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York charging Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, also known as “Spin Ghul,” with conspiracy to murder American military personnel in Afghanistan, conspiracy to bomb American diplomatic facilities in Nigeria, conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaeda, providing material support to al-Qaeda, and related firearms and explosives counts.1 The indictment was returned under seal by a federal grand jury sitting in Brooklyn, New York on February 21, 2012, and relates to Harun’s alleged activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa beginning in 2001.
The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security; George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office; and Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner, New York City Police Department.
According to court documents, Harun, who was born in Saudi Arabia but claims citizenship in Niger, was extradited from Italy to the United States on October 4, 2012, and arraigned in a sealed proceeding in federal court in Brooklyn, New York on October 5, 2012. The case is scheduled for a public status conference before United States District Judge Edward R. Korman at the United States Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, N.Y, on March 22, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.
Harun is charged with crimes related to his alleged terrorist activities on behalf of al-Qaeda beginning in 2001. According to the indictment and other court documents, beginning in 2001, the defendant traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan with the intent to fight violent jihad. He arrived in Afghanistan shortly before the September 11, 2001 attacks. He then joined al-Qaeda, received military-type training at al-Qaeda training camps, and ultimately fought against United States and Coalition forces in Afghanistan with an al-Qaeda fighting group based in Pakistan. According to the indictment, Harun allegedly attempted to kill United States military personnel in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2003. In 2003, in Pakistan, Harun received further al-Qaeda training and traveled to Africa with the intent to conduct attacks on United States diplomatic facilities in Nigeria. While in Nigeria, Harun allegedly conspired with others to bomb such facilities.
Thousands of people flocked to protest outside the interior ministry in Tunis, in the aftermath of the execution-style assassination. The offices of Ennahda, the government, have also been attacked, according to attacks.
The demonstrators accused Ennahda of failing to prevent the proliferation of violent fundamentalist factions inspired by al-Qaeda.
Shokri Belaid was shot in the head and chest as he left his home in Tunis.
Belaid was part of the secular opposition Popular Front movement that opposes the Islamist-led government that emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring revoluton.
“My brother was assassinated. I am desperate and depressed,” Abdelmajid Belaid, brother of the dead leader said. “I accuse [Ennahda leader] Rached Ghannouchi of assassinating my brother,” he said.
Terrorism in Algeria and war in Mali shows the increasing reach of Islamic extremist spreading in the Sahara. It is being reported that Al-Qaeda is shifting its focus to Syria, Libya, Iraq, Algeria and Mali.
The origin of the conflict in Mali is not, primarily regional or global, but local. Rebel Islamic fighters have held the northern part of Mali for almost a year. The rebel move South was apparently a response to the French ground and air assault which began on 11 January with the French objective to “restore Mali’s territorial integrity,” according to the French President Francois Hollande.
Earlier France was working with the UN to bring African Union forces to aid Mali but the rebel forces moved south before any foreign troops could arrive. France decided that only quick action would save their former French colony from Islamic jihadist. The French now plan to continue the assault on the retreating insurgents into the North before the rainy season starts in about a month.
The U. S. is significantly expanding its assistance to the French by offering aerial refueling and planes to transport soldiers from other African nations according to the Pentagon.
The Algerian natural gas plant where 37 foreign hostages were murdered last weekend had employed a trucking company owned by the brother of the regional leader of Al Qaeda, Mohamed Ghadir, better known as Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a prominent leader in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), one of the terrorist organizations waging war across the Sahara
As is often the case with militant groups operating in the Arabic-speaking world, the one that seized a gas field in eastern Algeria appears to have some links to al-Qaeda. But those links, based on the currently available information, appear sketchy. And the group to which they may be linked, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is not the same as the Afghanistan-and-Pakistan-based “central” al-Qaeda that is better known to Americans.
The militant group is led by a guy named Mokhtar Belmokhtar. We looked at him in an earlier post: he’s 40 (that’s ancient in jihadi terms), has one eye, trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is called “The Uncatchable” by French intelligence, and runs criminal enterprises that have included taking hostages for ransom. He currently runs his own group but used to be an officer with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, until he reportedly had a falling out with its leaders.
So here’s the big question: should we think of Belmokhtar’s group as part of al-Qaeda? “Linked” with al-Qaeda? “Associated”? It’s tough to say, in part because the closeness of that association is determined in part by ideology and in part by the personality-driven politics of Islamist militancy.
President Francois Hollande says French troops are taking part in operations against Islamists in northern Mali.
French troops “have brought support this afternoon to Malian units to fight against terrorist elements”, he said.
Armed groups, some linked to al-Qaeda, took control of northern Mali in April.
Mr Hollande said the intervention complied with international law, and had been agreed with Malian President Dioncounda Traore. A state of emergency has been declared across the country.
Mr Traore used a televised address on Friday to call on Malians to unite to “free every inch” of the country.
He said he was to launch a “powerful and massive riposte against our enemies” after he “called for and obtained France’s air support within the framework of the international legality”.
The militants said on Thursday that they had advanced further into government-controlled territory, taking the strategic central town of Konna.
The Islamists have sought to enforce an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
The West is moving toward a military intervention in Mali, somewhat slowly yet entirely deliberately, due to concerns about al-Qaeda’s control of territory there. An October UN Security Council resolution authorizes such military action, and while the United States has long supported such a move, Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s recent comments indicate that Canada, too, may be willing to contribute troops to such a venture.
Supporters of this intervention can point to a model in the quiet campaign the U.S. has waged for the past half-decade against jihadi groups in Somalia. But it is not yet clear, when all is said and done, that the Somalia campaign will be viewed as a success.