Moez al-Fezzani, a Tunisian citizen popularly known by his initial nom de guerre Abu Nassim, was arrested with other Daesh-Isis members in Sirte, between Rigdaleen and Al Jimail, Libya, on August 18, 2016. Already taken to trial in Italy for terrorist recruitment, Abu Nassim was obviously acquitted in Milan – a city which, since the time of the Mosque in Viale Jenner, is “the main centre of Al Qaeda in Europe”, as stated in a CIA report of ten years ago.
The Islamic Cultural Institute (ICI) in Milan was created in 1988, upon the initiative of some members of the Egyptian movement Jamaa al Islamiya. It immediately became a center to gather, train and fund the Islamists going to fight in Bosnia.
A stupid Western war enabling Alja Izetbegovic – the leader of the Bosnian Republic of Sarajevo, as well as author of a book prophetically entitled “Islamic fundamentalism” – to create an Islamist area in the Balkans serving the interests of Afghanistan, Chechnya, Al Qaeda (at the time, Bin Laden was often in Sarajevo) and Kosovars.
At the time, the cells and training camps of ICI – which enjoyed strange, but large amounts of money – were in Gallarate, Como, Varese and Cremona.
Considering Pareto’s theory of the persistence of aggregates, it would be nice to keep on following these groups, even though it results that ICI was dismantled.
Hence, at first, we must note the strange persistence of terrorist networks.
In Catalonia there was the Algerian citizen Bellil Belgacem, working for a halal butcher of Vilanova i la Geltrù, who organized the attack on our base at Nasiriyah. Later Belgacem was also in Milan – Viale Jenner, of course – before finally arriving in Syria from where he perpetrated the attack on our base in Iraq, by killing 19 Italian soldiers.
The “foreign” jihadists are those who usually organize terrorist attacks, as it is likely that their cover in the attack area is known to the local intelligence services.
Nevertheless the great cover and motivation networks – another key factor for assessing the jihad – remain, assuming that there are no serious threats of infiltration or dismantling.
Belkacem was identified because – as always happens – the Italian intelligence services had sent biological material of the attacker also to the Spanish Guardia Civil that unexpectedly solved the problem.
The house where the terrorists who organized the attack in Barcelona lived is another factor of the persistence of networks, owned by Mohamed Mrabet Fahsi, the Head of the cell held responsible for the terrorist attack in the Atocha station, Madrid, on March 11, 2004.
The “journalists” who killed Shah Massoud, also known as the Lion of Panjshir, one day before the 9/11 attack, by asking him as first question – a second before killing him – “Why are you so upset with Osama Bin Laden?” came from Moleenbeek, the municipality in the Brussels-Capital Region which was to become even more notorious years later.
Hence the first factor is the persistence of networks, but only if the network is wide, reliable and capable of mobilizing a sufficiently large cover area, made up of Islamists who never mobilize for the “infidels” or of smart manipulators, as is often the case with the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who weaken and defuse the attacks and sometimes attribute them to “Islamophobia”.
But the history of jihadist threats to Italy is long and overlaps with the actions which have been carried out by Al Qaeda and Daesh-Isis in the rest of Europe for too many years.
The first major report in Italy’s recent history dates back to March 2014, when the Moroccan intelligence services alerted the Italian ones, thus avoiding three attacks by the skin of their teeth – in the Milan subway, in the Basilica of St. Anthony, Padua and in the Church of St. Petronius, Bologna.
The Church in Bologna is well-known for its fresco portraying Muhammad in Hell (Canto XXVIII of Dante’s Divine Comedy), as sower of discord, together with Ali, the first Shi’a Imam.
Another constant feature is the choice of highly symbolic or highly damaging targets for the “infidels” so as to spread the terror which blocks the opponents’ reactions and intimidates them.
The symbolism is for internal use and unites the jihadists in an apparently “high” purpose.
Then the jihad rank-and-file comes in to play down, hide and relativize.
Hence either mass – the maximum amount of victims – or symbol, namely the destruction of the true or alleged anti-Islamic image.
Moreover, in the Hell – Canto XXVIII, Muhammad tells Dante to warn the schismatic and heretic Frà Dolcino.
Hence should there be an alliance between the Islamists and the followers of the Piedmontese heretic of Valsesia?
Furthermore, at the time, the front cover of the official magazine of Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate, Dabiq, showed the black flag of the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate flying atop the Egyptian obelisk at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
What is the symbol for? Simply for showing the policy line to the militants, i.e. to hit the Church and nothing else; to later terrorize the enemy, according to the warfare technique indicated by the Qur’an and the ahadit and finally to mislead the opponent’s operations.
War is deception, a Koranic theme that must be never forgotten.
In that phase, not long after the 2001 attack on the Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh, the Moroccan intelligence services that had warned Italy also neutralized 126 jihadist cells, arrested 2,676 Daesh-Isis militants and nipped 276 attacks in the bud.
Another constant feature of jihadist terrorism is that it is created and recreated at great speed, so as to confuse the opponents, direct them towards “old” networks and conceal networks while preparing the attacks.
Throughout 2015, Twitter and other social media published photos with Isis militants appearing in front of political, mass and historical-artistic sites in Italy with the hashtag “We_Are_Coming_O_Rome” or “Islamic State in Rome”.
We have never had doubts on the active presence of jihadist networks in Italy.
In fact, last May a network of illegal migrant traffickers between Bari, Catania and Salerno was dismantled – a network of Somalis who had contacts with groups of jihadists they probably funded thanks to the proceeds of their trafficking.
Apart from the small talk of “misguided idealists” or of incompetent politicians, it is obvious that illegal immigration covers up the creation of jihadist groups in Italy, initially divided by ethnicity and subsequently funded by international jihad networks.
“We are coming, o Rome” (“and we will slaughter you in your own houses”) is a technically easy-to-identify hashtag on Twitter and finally refers to the presence of the “Islamic State in Rome”.
A major identity (the struggle against the Catholic Church) linked to a minor identity: every militant knows what to do and what to do is indicated by the reality in which the jihad operates: attacks with knives, propane and methane gas cylinders or with mobiles to be used as remote trigger.
The jihad is camouflage, but it is the explicit goal that must be reached. There is no camouflage or deception here.
Therefore another permanent feature of European jihad is, at first, the great attack, mobilizing the Islamic masses and ensuring their loyalty, by exciting and inflaming them, and later the microphysics of power established by “do-it-yourself” terrorism.
Last February, the “Caliphate” published a text written in good Italian by a Mr. Mehdi, entitled “Lo Stato Islamico, una realtà che ti vorrebbe comunicare”, much focused on the “services to citizens”.
It was later discovered that said Mr. Mehdi was Elmahdi Alili, a 20-year-old Italian citizen of Moroccan origin.
In said text Alili also threatened to fire Caliphate’s missiles against Sicily.
We will see how the old Islamic conquest of Sicily is a myth equivalent to that of Al Andalus in Spain – a myth to which Osama Bin Laden was already referring in his first proclamations.
Therefore the first Daesh-Isis texts on Spain are of January 7, January 31 and May 30, 2016, respectively, with a very high climax of videos and messages in the networks managed by Daesh, just before the Barcelona attacks.
At first the people are motivated and given general orders; later the network is organized and finally the green light is given.
What about Italy? From June 3 to 7 last, Isis-Daesh produced three propaganda videos and a PDF file – two of those videos referred to Rome.
The images are very recent, shot in motion and at night. The videos have titles referring to Italy, such as “Deadline Rome”, while the PDF file is entitled “You want Raqqa, we want Rome”.
But Raqqa is now lost – hence the conquest of Rome seems to be a sort of revenge and reconstruction of the Caliphate among the “infidels”.
Hence the first video, translated from Arabic into English, is “Deadline Rome”, but the word “deadline” has also other meanings in English.
All these videos are produced by the Al Waad Foundation (“Commitment/Promise”), an unofficial structure linked to Daesh-Isis.
The analysis of the video makes us revert to the Libyan issue, the current key factor of the connection between the global jihad and Italy.
In fact, Isis fears a primary role played by Italy in supporting al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA). Then the Caliphate calls the “brothers” to take up arms to spread the jihad in Libya and finally recalls Al Libi, the ”heir” to Bin Laden.
Another sign not to be overlooked is that – following the jihadist tradition – the “Caliphate” refers to a battle of the Prophet, namely Khandaq or the “Battle of the Trench”.
Meccans and infidels on the one side, Medinan Muslims and newly-converted on the other.
A battle to be studied symbolically, but also practically: the 3,000 followers of the Prophet defending Medina remained holed up without accepting the clash with the overwhelming forces of the “infidels”.
This is obviously the image of the current Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate.
After Muhammad’s order to dig a trench to avoid the Meccans’ cavalry, the siege continued.
But the Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza refused to collaborate with the Prophet, as it had previously promised.
Hence it was accused of betrayal.
The symbolism is clear.
The “Caliphate” propaganda on Rome continues with “we will conquer Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem”.
The possible meaning is the following: we will start from Rome, home to the “Crusaders” and later we will continue with Byzantium and Judaism.
Finally the PDF file shows the Colosseum and the Theater of Marcellus and it has been put online by the Al Wafa Foundation, an official organization of Daesh-Isis.
Here again there is a reference to the Quraysh tribe, the Meccans rejecting Muhammad’s Prophecy.
Is this the sign of an internal debate, probably between militants of the Syrian-Iraqi “State” and the jihadists who want to operate in Europe?
Staying or going away – thus turning Daesh-Isis into a global terrorist agency, such as the old Al Qaeda – or calling all the jihadists already present in Europe to return to its territorial area, only after their carrying out an attack or at least a personal war action against the “infidels”?
Is it a simple indication of the “enemy” to be successful in some operations or is it a geopolitical project starting from resistance in Raqqa and in the rest of the Daesh region?
Or – as the second video entitled “Between two Migrations” shows – the jihadists are explicitly asked to return to the “Caliphate”, in addition to showing the images of Pope Francis’s visit to Lesbos while migrants seem to refuse and criticize the Holy Father’s visit.
Let us analyze data: the first regards migrants – hence the Caliphate works on the assumption that there is a share of migrants currently present in Italy who could reunite with the territorial jihad. The second is the rejection of Pope Francis’ “open hand policy”, which could be successful in some regions of the Muslim world.
This means that the jihadists are said: carry out the great attack you are already preparing and then come here.
The third video entitled “Ramadan, the Month of Conquest” explains with many historical data the Islamic conquest of Sicily. Then a boot appears on the image of Italy and finally the word Rome comes to the screen.
Last March a rather strange video was put online, subtitled in Arabic and English, in which one of the two jihadists spoke only the sign language.
I am not an expert of this language, but it is very likely that the signs say much more than expected.
This video for deaf-mutes is again a call to move to the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate – possibly after perpetrating an attack – with unspecific threats to the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France, always repeating the usual slogan “we will come and kill you”.
Hence either the jihadists are rounded up and gathered to create critical mass at a time when – only thanks to Russia and its regional allies – the Caliphate is surrendering, or the jihadists who have remained in the Isis-Daesh region are said to go and destroy European countries.
The ambiguity is obviously desired.
However, it was in April 2015 (which makes us think that the attack was closer than expected, considering the time of the traditional connection between the threat on the web and the perpetration of the terrorist attack) that Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate put online a video in Arabic, but fully subtitled in Italian.
It was designed both for the Italian Arabs and for the young people not yet mastering the Koranic language.
In fact, it was produced as a good music video.
“Like a thunderbolt you will see the war in your countries”. “We will come to spread slaughter and death”.
These are the two poles of propaganda.
The sharp knives are mentioned, to which we have already got used.
There is the precise indication of a weapon.
The video subtitled in Italian refers to “balls of fire”, which may be bullets or bombs.
This is an indication movie – with the true indication of the end times.
Without eschatology we cannot understand the contemporary jihad, also in its aspects of McIslam which, in other contexts, could make us laugh.
With this specific propaganda the “Caliphate” wants to say that its militants must take action soon, as soon as possible.
Again in November 2015 a series of particularly cruel photos referring to Italy were spread via Twitter together with horrible threats.
In that case the jihadists who must arrive in Italy are said to act quickly, so as to prepare the attack and remain unknown to the police and the intelligence services (in fact, it is clearly said “we will come to kill you”) or the jihadists who are preparing a terror attack are told it must be extremely fierce.
What if the Caliphate – today floundering in a crisis between Syria and Iraq – wanted to create pockets of ongoing destabilization in Europe, to be connected from corridors or small control areas – as it did in its Middle East territory?
Europe is so weak and uncertain that not even this option can be ruled out.
Finally, in my opinion, little analytical value can be attributed to the interpretation of the current jihad – at least from the Nice to the Barcelona attacks – as an internal struggle between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its allies, using the Islamist terrorist network.
Certainly, these two countries have huge real estate, hotel and industrial property in Italy and Europe.
But a terrorist operation in the Porta Nuova district, Milan – bought by Qatar – would bear a too clear signature.
And either of the two countries could really strike the final blow on the Caliphate they both have so much supported.
And yet both countries currently keep on helping the “Caliphate” – hence the structure of Al Baghdadi, now dead, has no interest in supporting one against the other.
I know that terrorists are always more informed about their targets than we may believe: I had a bad experience with the so-called “New Red Brigades”. I was first on the list, but the then National Police Chief, Vincenzo Parisi, informed me of everything our National Security Network came to know.
Moreover, strange events still occur, such as the fact of a journalist denying the Shoah who was found to be a friend of the founder of the above-mentioned New Red Brigades, namely Nadia Lioce.
Joshua Boyle Charged With Assault: Was He Re-Enacting the Traumas of Taliban Captivity?
Joshua Boyle, a 34-year-old Canadian man rescued last October with his American wife and three children after five years in Taliban captivity, has been arrested by Canadian authorities and charged with 15 criminal offenses, including sexual and physical assault, unlawful confinement, uttering death threats, and misleading police. All these charges relate to alleged behavior since his return from captivity Oct. 14.
A court order in Canada has prohibited publication of information that would identify any of the alleged victims. But it appears likely that Boyle’s alleged behavior is a result of the deep traumas he and his family endured during their hostage taking, some of which is now being re-enacted.
Boyle’s wife, Caitlan Coleman, said in a statement that “ultimately it is the strain and trauma he was forced to endure for so many years and the effects that had on his mental state that is most culpable for this.”
Their family clearly has been through hell. Boyle and Coleman, who was seven months pregnant at the time, were backpacking in Afghanistan’s Wardak province when they were abducted by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. They were only freed after a shootout between the Pakistani security forces and their captors.
Upon their arrival back in Canada, Boyle spoke to journalists, reading from a statement, and blurting out that their infant daughter had been murdered and his wife raped “as retaliation for my repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani network had made to me.”
According to Boyle, Coleman’s rape was not undertaken “as a lone action, but by one guard… assisted by the captain of the guard and supervised by the commandant.” Later, Coleman clarified that she was given a massive dose of estrogen against her will, which forced her to abort.
AS HOSTAGES, BOYLE AND COLEMAN were at times kept in cramped quarters as small as a bathtub, were drugged, forced into the trunk of a car to be transported from place to place, and abused. The son that Coleman was carrying when they were abducted was born in captivity. And then they made the decision after the loss of their unborn daughter to conceive and bear more children who were raised with them.
After the family’s release, those three surviving children showed dire signs of trauma, re-experiencing it in nightmares and flashbacks, as Boyle told Michelle Shephard of the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star in October. He said that their 4-year-old son, Najaeshi Jonah, did not like to close his eyes because it reminded him of waking up at night to see masked men with Kalashnikovs picking him up after his parents already had been taken away while he was sleeping. Ever since, according to Boyle, their son tried to avoid closing his eyes, even to play the childhood game of peek-a-boo, in order to avoid re-experiencing the horror.
Najaeshi Jonah, according to Boyle, was also “terrified to leave the house [in Canada], even just to go on the porch… It’s as though he thinks if he ever exits this magical wonderland it will all end…”
Speaking for himself, Boyle also admitted in an interview he no longer trusted anyone after being held hostage for so long.
Speaking of his 2-year-old middle child, Dhakwoen Noah, Boyle told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Susan Ormiston that his son was experiencing traumatic flashbacks and is “nearly as distressed as he was in prison, it seems everything reminds him of the horrors of prison; cameras are equated to hostage videos, pens are equated to syringes used to drug his parents with ketamine by the guards, slamming doors is associated with cell searches or worse, it seems his healing process has barely begun—so we pray that God will hasten it.”
Even the Boyles’ months-old infant girl returned from captivity traumatized Boyle wrote in an email to the CBC: “Ma’idah Grace seems scared most of the time, but also to have discovered there are more decent people in the world than she knew; her world until last week consisted of two good brothers and two good parents and about 15 guards [who were sources of] increasing fear to her.”
THAT IT’S NOT ONLY the children who were traumatized, but also Boyle himself—who tried to appear strong and the leader of the family upon their release—now seems all too clear.
In a strange psychological twist, trauma survivors who don’t get the support and help they need to overcome the psychic pain they have endured often repeat their traumas in both symbolic and literal ways. It may be the brain trying to redo the story and get it right, or at a minimum understand, and come to grips with the past psychic pain endured.
Many wondered about the Boyle and Coleman decision to bear more children in captivity, but any psychologist knowing how the case unfolded could see that both spouses were deeply distraught over the forced abortion of their unborn daughter and Coleman’s rape. It is common after a forced or traumatic abortion to get pregnant repeatedly to try to heal that painful scar—a pattern to which the Boyle-Coleman marriage was no exception, even in captivity.
Boyle first appeared in court on New Year’s Day in Ottawa, and again on Wednesday. He will remain in custody at least until Monday. Among the charges issued against him is causing an unidentified person to ingest “a noxious thing, namely Trazodone,” an antidepressant drug.
In this case it seems that traumatic re-enactment is clearly occurring. Joshua Boyle, under deep distress, has now allegedly forced someone to take a serious medication against their will, and has allegedly sexually assaulted someone. He is even accused of keeping someone in unlawful confinement—perhaps repeating what was done to them in his own mixed-up way.
It’s not a small thing for any man, to be responsible for putting his wife in harm’s way and then being unable to save her from rape and a forced abortion. That he was clearly still deeply distressed by both, and that these traumas were first and foremost in his mind, was evident in his statement upon their release when he lashed out at his kidnappers, calling for the Afghan government to track down those members of the Haqqani network who raped his wife, and ordered “the murder of my infant daughter.”
UPON THEIR RELEASE in Pakistan and return to Canada, all of the Coleman/Boyle family were showing signs of distress and may or may not have been receiving—or accepted—the support they needed. Boyle may have rejected psychological assistance, or simply opted for prayers and medications that might ease the pain. But prayers and medications don’t quickly and completely erase traumatic memories that tend to intrude unbidden into one’s consciousness causing rage, terror, withdrawal and alienation—symptoms that trauma survivors need help in learning to manage.
Boyle perhaps too quickly stepped forward and took it upon himself to be the family spokesman talking to the press with whom he unceremoniously announced the family traumas. Meanwhile Caitlan Coleman remained veiled, in the shadows and silent—while her father, Jim Coleman, made angry statements to American media blaming Boyle. “Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable.”
Coleman’s father was not the only one who questioned Coleman’s reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place. Security and law enforcement also had their lingering questions about whether Boyle had tried to make contact with terrorists in the first place and why Boyle and his wife were in Afghanistan.
Boyle, who is a convert to Islam, was married for a time to Zaynab Khadr, one of the elder sisters of Omar Khadr, the Pakistani-Canadian who as a 15-year-old was arrested and charged with killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Boyle, among others, was outraged that Khadr spent ten years in Guantanamo despite claiming his confession to the killing had been coerced.
The patriarch of the Khadr family was killed in 2003, along with al Qaeda and Taliban members, in a shootout with Pakistani security forces near the Afghanistan border. Omar Khadr, who was repatriated to Canada in 2012, subsequently won a settlement of 10.5 million Canadian dollars ($8.4 million) and a government apology from the Canadian government for breaching his constitutional rights.
Security experts wondered if Boyle’s zeal for Islam and his anger over the West’s action toward individuals like Omar Khadr were part of his reason for going to Afghanistan. Was he looking for contacts that ultimately disappointed him by taking him and his family hostage and demanding he join them?
Boyle’s associations with the family led some U.S. intelligence officials to speculate that his visit to Afghanistan may have been part of a larger effort to link up with Taliban-affiliated militants. “I can’t say that [he was ever al Qaeda],” one former intelligence official told The Independent in the U.K. “He was never a fighter on the battlefield. But my belief is that he clearly was interested in getting into it.”
These questions still remain unanswered, but certainly would cause Boyle distress.
Within a week of their release in October 2017, Boyle, who tried to present himself as the strong protector, reportedly was rushed to the hospital with an unspecified ailment. Boyle’s family made a statement at the time that both their son and his wife were “deeply traumatized and Josh is not of clear thought as he speaks at times.”
This week Caitlan Coleman defended Boyle, without offering specifics, in her statement to the Toronto Star where she blamed the trauma they had been through. “Obviously, he is responsible for his own actions,” Coleman wrote, “but it is with compassion and forgiveness that I say I hope help and healing can be found for him. As to the rest of us, myself and the children, we are healthy and holding up as well as we can.” Boyle’s defense lawyer, Eric Granger, wrote in an e-mail to the Star, “Mr. Boyle is a young man who we all know has been through a lot. He has never been in trouble with the law.”
Indeed, and now that we see evidence that the deep traumas of their five-year-ordeal are being replayed, it is time for Caitlan, Joshua, and their children to get the psychological, spiritual, medical, and community support they need. Only then can they rage and grieve and finally come to terms with the losses harsh captivity has left imprinted on their bodies, minds, and souls.
Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi
Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D.
Last month Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Yet a pressing question remains—where is Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the terrorist group that took over a third of Iraq’s territory in 2014 to establish the so-called caliphate, which terrorized millions in the region, horrified people all over the world, and inspired gruesome attacks in Europe and the United States?
Despite a $25 million U.S. State Department bounty on his head, al Baghdadi has managed to evade capture and death repeatedly. This, even with the fury of the U.S., Russian, Syrian, and Iraqi militaries focused on killing him.
While we were in Baghdad as researchers from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) last month interviewing cadres from the so-called Islamic State who, unlike their leader, were caught and brought to justice, an Iraqi prison interrogator asked, “With all of your country’s military might why is it that the U.S. can’t find al Baghdadi?”
It’s a good question.
Intelligence is best informed from on-the-ground sources, which, in the case of ISIS, the Americans lack. Western intelligence services have found it nearly impossible to insert spies into the terrorist organization. Jordanian sources claimed to us to have done so, and in Jordan’s case there is also a corroborating news story of an agent who had infiltrated and served as a commander in ISIS being airlifted out before the coalition’s final assault on the ISIS capital Raqqa.
Several Kosovar government officials also have told ICSVE researchers about their attempts to infiltrate the organization, but admit they failed. One of them was discovered and killed. And while the Israeli Mossad and Russia may have succeeded (that is certainly what they would like us to believe), it’s not clear that the intelligence received from any of these actors is, or was, coming out of the organization in real time.
Clearly no government or intelligence service has enough information to kill al Baghdadi.
During interviews with 66 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners to date, ICSVE researchers have learned that all cadres are highly controlled. Mobile phones are often taken from them. Those allowed to keep them often have their messages checked. Surveillance of communications is extremely tight. The fate of anyone accused of betraying ISIS is likely to be beheading. In our interviews we often heard of Russians, especially, decapitated after having been accused as spies—claims often made only out of suspicion and with little to no evidence backing them up.
The ISIS Emni (also written Amn or Amni, the intelligence arm of ISIS) was constantly on the alert for enemies within its own ranks, overseeing any external communications and carefully vetting those who joined. Recruits who appeared in Syria and Iraq without personal references spent time under Emni investigation, and often were sent directly to the front lines. The thinking was that if they took up arms, fought valiantly on behalf of the group and managed to survive, they were allowed in. If they died, “martyrdom” was their fate, and if they were true believers, they went to Paradise. Otherwise, to Hell.
Keep in mind as well, that ISIS is not just an agglomeration of fanatical volunteers, as it is sometimes portrayed. Its core structure was formed by a group of highly trained Iraqi former military and intelligence officers from Saddam Hussein’s government who were angry when they were dismissed and sent home following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Ultimately they allied with the short-lived but utterly savage group of jihadists that formed around the Jordanian firebrand Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who had won grudging recognition from Osama bin Laden as the leader of what became known as al Qaeda in Iraq.
The search for Zarqawi from 2003 until the Americans killed him in 2006 gives a glimpse of what’s going on now in the hunt for al Baghdadi.
Nada Bakos was one of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “targeting officers” on Zarqawi’s trail. Now no longer with the CIA, she explained in a recent interview with the History Channel for a series about the ultimate demise of Adolf Hitler, “a targeting officer is a person who is analyzing information for the purposes of making it actionable—whether it’s working with the military or something the Agency itself could do.”
One sifts through “mountains and mountains” of information, said Bakos. “Everybody leaves a trace. … Everybody leaves some kind of footprint and some kind of pattern that you can find. Every human being is driven to seek out certain things: food, water, shelter, connection with other people. There are very basic instincts that drive a person to exist. And those leave a pattern.”
One also looks for weaknesses, and characteristics that set the prey apart: “Vulnerabilities of people on the run would include if they had a medical issue—understanding what that medical issue is and what they needed to treat that—family members, close friends, if they were interested in a particular area of the world, what they’d considered home,” said Bakos. “You’re trying to paint a picture of where someone might end up going—and what their strategy was and what their intent was.”
Zarqawi was “an evil maniac,” Bakos said. Indeed, more than a dozen years ago, he was drawing world attention to himself by beheading hostages, setting a gruesome precedent embraced enthusiastically by his ideological heirs. As he was pursued, “It was really all about trying to figure out where within the network would he feel safest,” said Bakos. “Where does he want to communicate from? How does he want to live and exist in day-to-day life? We knew he had family members who are around him once in a while. Trying to envision what it was that drove him to exist in the way he wanted to. What did he want his life to look like?”
Eventually the Special Operations task force pursuing Zarqawi learned that an imam and learned Islamic scholar he considered his spiritual advisor would be meeting him at a house outside the Iraqi city of Baquba in June 2006. Drones followed the imam’s car, and when the cleric entered the building, an American F16 flattened it with two 500-pound bombs.
But, Bakos notes something else we might want to remember as we look at the hunt for Baghdadi. Zarqawi’s organization “was literally a network of nodes and power centers,” and not very hierarchical, according to Bakos. Which meant that even after his death and even after what appeared to be a near-complete defeat in Iraq, the group was able to scatter, regroup, and reorganize in Syria, eventually re-emerging as the so-called Islamic State under the leadership, whether real or titular, of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
WE NOTICED THAT in our interviews very few of the former ISIS cadres we’ve spoken with, even those serving in the high ranks of ISIS, report having seen al Baghdadi in person. Since his infamous 2014 video recording from a mosque in Mosul where he declared the establishment of the ISIS “caliphate,” al Baghdadi has lived a reclusive life, only occasionally posting statements online. Despite being the leader of one of the most virulent terrorist organizations to date, the intelligence officers surrounding him have kept his location and movements a closely guarded secret.
That ISIS learned from its predecessor and sister terrorist organizations how to protect its leader should not be a surprise. Those from the intelligence world of Saddam Hussein knew what to do to avoid repetition of the attempted and actual executions of Chechen terrorist leaders Basayev and al Khattab by the Russians, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden by the United States, respectively. From the first moments of the formation of the ISIS caliphate the ISIS intelligence operatives took steps to minimize the possibility that al Baghdadi would meet the same fate and the organization would be prematurely decapitated.
So, finding al Baghdadi is not as simple as relying on the technical prowess of the American military, as our Iraqi interrogator believed. The highly precise and round-the-clock satellite surveillance that the United States employs and the sophisticated drones that can zoom in to search the ground in the greatest detail do very little to inform when the likes of al Baghdadi can scurry through the labyrinth of tunnels in Mosul and elsewhere that were built by ISIS. And when those tunnels are no longer available to him, al Baghdadi has the additional advantage of transforming his appearance, perhaps even disguising himself as an Arab woman hiding under a niqab to evade surveillance, as other ISIS cadres have attempted to do. While the U.S. troops and the U.S. supported Kurdish forces scour telephone intercepts, al Baghdadi almost certainly learned, as Osama bin Laden did, that he could only communicate with relative safety via couriers.
FOLLOWING THE 2003 U.S.-LED invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a hole in the ground. This was not the result of the $25 million bounty that also was put on his head. It took the Americans many months to catch Saddam after mounting a massive hunt for him. The capture was finally accomplished by pulling in his former bodyguards who, under interrogation, gave bits and pieces that finally led to the discovery of Saddam’s whereabouts. At the time of his capture, Saddam may also have lacked the kind of devoted network that al Baghdadi can still rely on, with as many as 20,000 ISIS cadres that have melted back into society, according to Iraqi officials. It’s also apparent that the ISIS Emni knows how to spirit its members across international borders.
Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, al Baghdadi has been reported killed, yet resurfaced multiple times.
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, chief of the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria told a conference call with journalists at the end of August, as he was about to rotate out of his assignment, that he thought al Baghdadi was still at large, but the question of where was left vague, to say the least.
“I don’t have a clue. He could be anywhere in the world for all I know,” said Townsend.
“Here’s what I think. I think he’s somewhere in Iraq and Syria. I think he’s probably somewhere in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.”
This is an area, often referred to by the acronym MERV, that runs about 250 kilometers from around Deir ez-Zour in Syria to Rawah in Iraq. “That’s where they believe their last sanctuary is,” said Townsend. “So I think he’s probably somewhere down there.”
But Townsend noted that fighting in MERV would not be like the siege of a city or a neighborhood. “You can’t really just contain the whole Euphrates River valley and starve them out. It’s too big. It’s too complex,” he said. And there is the added complication that rival forces—the Russians and the Syrian army of Bashar Assad with its allied Iran-backed militias—have converged on the area at the same time as the U.S.-led coalition and its allies, which have approached from the opposite side of the river. Obviously, time that might be spent hunting for al Baghdadi is spent avoiding clashes between the forces converging to kill or capture him.
“We’re looking for him every day,” said Townsend. “When we find him, I think we’ll just try to kill him first. It’s probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him.”
That was more than four months ago, and the fighting, and the hunting, continues—along with the deconfliction issues. “We’re piling up a lot of airplanes in a very small piece of sky,” a senior U.S. Air Force officer in the operation told The New York Times at the end of December. Two senior figures, Abu Faysal and his deputy Abu Qudamah al Iraqi, were taken out by an airstrike on Dec. 1.
According to Daily Beast contributor Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who has followed the Syrian combat closely on the ground, “There are some remaining pockets of ISIS militants along the east bank of the Euphrates River [in Syria] and in the desert along the border with Iraq. Earlier this week 70 ISIS fighters and their families reportedly handed themselves over to the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces. So it’s possible Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is either in those pockets or in the desert. Most likely in the desert.”
Several Iraqi security officials that we spoke to last month said they strongly believe al Baghdadi is still around. Kurdish intelligence chief Lahur Talabany figured “99 percent he is alive.” Talabany cited the history of ISIS and its roots as al Qaeda in Iraq, which dispersed like bees when the hive was destroyed, then came back together in a swarm.
The man is wanted “dead or alive” but nobody seems to be sure which he is just now, which probably is just they way he’d like it.
“ABU BAKR AL BAGHDADI” is a kunya, a pseudonym similar to names many ISIS members give themselves indicating where they come from. In his case it means the father of Bakr, from Baghdad. In fact he was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971, and his real name is Awwad Ibrahim Ali al Badri al Samarrai.
As head of the so-called Islamic State, Baghdadi sought to legitimize his claim as “caliph” with claims that his family ancestry traces back to the Prophet Muhammad, and because he had post-graduate training in Islamic studies.
But in operational terms a more important figure may have been Abu Muhammad al Adnani, often described as al Baghdadi’s right-hand man and the voice of the organization. He was the powerful head of the ISIS Emni who served as the “emir” of the Syrian territories and director of overseas operations, including horrific attacks in Europe. Unlike Baghdadi, Adnani was known for his battlefield strategy, prolific propaganda, and international plotting. He was killed by a coalition airstrike in 2016.
In the Zarqawi days, al Baghdadi was reported to have fallen out with Zarqawi, condemning his brutal bombings of Shiites. Yet when al Baghdadi came to head ISIS—and broke with al Qaeda’s core leadership—his terror organization became the most brutal seen to date, continuing the indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims. And what is known of al Baghdadi’s personal heartlessness is no different than that of Zarqawi.
American hostage Kayla Mueller was held for a time with a half-dozen Yazidi girls as sex slaves for al Baghdadi in the home of Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian working as the ISIS oil and gas emir. Hostages held with Mueller, reported that she frequently was called for by al Baghdadi who raped her mercilessly. She was killed in 2014.
Al Baghdadi harbored a deep hatred for the U.S. after his capture by the Americans in 2004 and the 10 months he spent in Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib. Some credit his time in the U.S.-run prison as connecting him to other jihadis, although his ties to Zarqawi mean he was already well connected, and others wonder what effect the abuses in Abu Ghraib had on shaping his own subsequent actions.
In 2013, al Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that AQI and Jabhat al-Nusra terror groups were merging under the name “Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham” and later as the Islamic State. In 2014 he declared the ISIS Caliphate from Mosul and himself the Caliph—his only video performance to date. His latest public missive in September 2017, following an 11-month silence, was an audio recording urging his forces to resist the American supported Iraqi incursion into Mosul and to mount attacks worldwide. American forces judged it as authentic and current.
Iraqi Sunnis in Baghdad told us that he still sends messages to his followers, although they are likely relying on rumors. American intelligence sources have told CNN that they have failed to intercept any ISIS communications confirming his death and that given his stature in the organization, the U.S. expects to see significant chatter discussing his demise should he be killed.
In December 2017 an Iraqi Ministry of Intelligence officials told us, “Iraqis may turn up the heat on trying to catch him in the next three months, as it will be good propaganda for the Prime Minister to do so while facing his bid for reelection.” That said, another MOI officer shrugged off questions about the hunt for al Baghdadi, asking in return, “Does it matter anymore? ISIS is defeated.”
In Iraq, officials estimate from 6,000 to 20,000 ISIS cadres have melted back into the landscape, which means the group may still harbor the capabilities and manpower to carry out guerrilla warfare with smaller scale suicide attacks and bombings, particularly if there is a leader to order it. But at this point, even without their leaders, ISIS and al Qaeda have spawned a social movement of small actors who attack on their own.
Likewise, for all that ISIS has lost—the territory that it once claimed as the caliphate, the oil fields from which it derived the wealth and revenues to enable it to finance weapons supplies and salaries for its fighters, its ability to enslave and sell captured women, its clandestine theft and sale of antiquities and other valuables, and its ability to impose taxes on those who lived under it—the ISIS dream still remains.
Even ISIS defectors and prisoners, while expressing their disillusionment with the group and its tactics, often show evidence of remaining loyalty to the ISIS dream they were sold. The Islamic State’s offer to young men and women the world over who are frustrated with injustices, political inequalities, and lack of opportunities still remains. The ISIS promise to join in building a new form of governance that they falsely claim will uphold Islamic ideals, be inclusive and offer justice and opportunities to all Muslims is a heady one. This utopian dream of the true Islamic Caliphate peddled throughout the world by ISIS has not been destroyed.
The fact that al Baghdadi is at large may make it seem to those true believes even more possible to resurrect the defeated empire.
As Gen. Townsend put it last August, “In 2014, the world watched in horror as ISIS seized more than 100,000 square kilometers of Syria and Iraq and brought more than 7 million people under its barbaric control. ISIS was something the world had rarely seen before. ISIS is the most evil entity I have encountered in my lifetime.”
Not only must we break the ISIS brand totally, discrediting entirely the dream they have sold as possible to achieve through violence and brutality, we must also do all we can to continue the hunt for the 25 Million Dollar Man, so that, one way or another, those who supported him and those he victimized can see he has been made to pay for all the crimes against humanity carried out under his leadership.
—with additional reporting by Christopher Dickey
Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (1-6-2018) Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi, Daily Beast
Is MEK/Jundullah The ISIS Of Tomorrow?
One would think that the United States would have learned by now, that it is never a good idea to arm terrorist groups in different parts of the world, due to the inevitable “blowback” which eventually ensues after these violent groups determine that the USA is no longer in support of them, or when the USA wants to deny that they have any relationship with them.
We have seen this paradigm unfold countless times before, over the past few decades, with groups like Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, La Fenice, Avanguardia Nazionale, Ordine Nuovo, the Contras, Cuban Exiles, Colombian Paramilitary Organizations, Los Pepes, Kosovo Liberation Army, Jundullah, Mujahedin-e Khalq (“MEK”), and countless others designed to engage in United States sponsored terrorist activities against sovereign governments and nations that the US doesn’t like for whatever reason.
In the wake of the abject failure of the US using ISIS to destabilize, disrupt and disorient various governments throughout the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq, Lybia, Yemen and others, followed quickly by various ISIS-attributed terrorist attacks against the US and Europe by ISIS, President Donald Trump was swept into office in large part because the American and European people discovered this via the veritable “sieve” known as social media and the internet.
But rather than change US foreign policy to ban or cease using violent thugs to carry out US policy overseas, instead it appears that the US Government through the CIA have now adopted a smaller more surgically precise approach by supporting, through its proxy nations Israel and Saudi Arabia, smaller groups such as MEK and Jundullah, who operate primarily in tiny regions of the world, such as in and around Iran, without much of a global presence.
But like cancer, these groups have a tendency to grow uncontrollably, and then later turn on the US and Europe, when and if the latter starts to pull funding or divorce themselves from the court of public opinion through plausible denial.
This is exactly how ISIS grew into a formidable fighting force, and eventually turned on its creators, much like the Frankenstein monster in the Mary Shelley novels.
All of this must be an abject nightmare for the US FBI, DHS, ICE and DEA pull their proverbial hair out, because they must often clean up/explain the horrific domestic messes of terrorist blowback occurring on US soil when these groups inevitably turn on their paymasters, just like they are the chief law enforcement/preventative bodies that deal with the drug war, also in large part caused by the CIA’s open and clandestine support of massive drug producing/trafficking regimes in Afghanistan, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico.
The news lately has revealed that the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are openly funding, supporting, arming, training and providing logistical support to Jundullah and MEK in order to take down the current sovereign government of Iran.
Even though the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel may not like the current government there, what right do they have to engage in this type of state sponsored terrorist behavior?
There is a reason why various governments throughout the world have stood the test of time, and exist in their present states.
Perhaps their people wanted it, or perhaps there was need for that specific type of ideology or mode of governance, but unless and until those governments actively target or harm Americans, the US has absolutely no business getting involved with those groups, and indeed, has invariably and inevitably lived to regret it countless times, in nearly 100% of all cases.
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