Somalia bombing may have been revenge for botched U.S.-led operation

The Guardian reports: The man who killed more than 300 people with a truck bomb in the centre of Mogadishu on Saturday was a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose home town was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, officials in Somalia have said.

The death toll from the bombing now stands at more than 300, making it one of the most devastating terrorist attacks anywhere in the world for many years. On Tuesday remains of victims were still being brought out of rubble spread over hundreds of square metres.

Investigators believe the attack on Saturday may in part have been motivated by a desire for revenge for the botched US-led operation in August.

Al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack but a member of the cell detained by security forces has told interrogators the group was responsible, one security official told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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Syria’s war has deadliest month this year

BBC News reports: September has been the deadliest month in Syria’s civil war so far this year, a monitoring group has said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said more than 3,300 people had died in September, including 995 civilians.

Of those civilian deaths, it said about 70% were caused by Russian, Syrian government, or coalition air strikes.
The group bases its casualty reports on information provided by a network of activists in Syria.

It counted 207 children among the civilian dead, along with some 790 pro-government fighters, more than 700 from so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliates, and some 550 rebels. [Continue reading…]

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Will the 9/11 case finally go to trial?

Andrew Cockburn writes: Meeting with the leaders of NATO countries in May, President Trump chastised them sternly for their shortcomings as allies. He took the time, however, to make respectful reference to the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whom he had just visited at the start of his first overseas trip as president. “I spent much time with King Salman,” he told the glum-looking cluster of Europeans, calling him “a wise man who wants to see things get much better rapidly.”

Some might find this fulsome description surprising, given widespread reports that Salman, who took the throne in January 2015, suffers from dementia. Generally seen wearing a puzzled look, the king has been known to wander off in the middle of conversations, as he reportedly did once while talking with President Obama. When speaking in public, he depends on fast-typing aides whose prompts appear on a discreetly concealed monitor.

Whatever wisdom Trump absorbed from his elderly royal friend, the primary purpose of his trip to Riyadh, according to a former senior U.S. official briefed on the proceedings, was cash — both in arms sales and investments in crumbling American infrastructure, such as highways, bridges, and tunnels. The Trump Administration is “desperate for Saudi money, especially infrastructure investments in the Rust Belt,” the former official told me. An influx of Saudi dollars could generate jobs and thus redound to Trump’s political benefit. As a cynical douceur, the Saudis, derided by Trump during his campaign as “people that kill women and treat women horribly,” joined the United Arab Emirates in pledging $100 million for a women’s-empowerment initiative spearheaded by Ivanka Trump. A joyful president took part in the traditional sword dance and then helped launch a Saudi center for “combating extremism.”

This was not the first time the Saudis had dangled the prospect of massive investments to leverage U.S. support. “Mohammad bin Salman made the same pitch to the Obama people,” the former official told me. “ ‘We’re going to invest all this money here, you’re going to be our great economic partner, etc.’ Because the Trump Administration doesn’t know much about foreign affairs, they were really seduced by this.” [Continue reading…]

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Nature of Las Ramblas attack provides harsh lessons in fight against terror

Jason Burke writes: The precise motivation and the identity of the Barcelona attackers will become clear in the next few hours. Islamic State has claimed responsibility on its Amaq news agency, though in recent months such claims have become highly unreliable.

Individuals close to Isis and active on social media have been celebrating the attack, but this does not necessarily indicate a direct connection between the attacker or attackers and the group.

Tactics spread among militants when they are seen to work. There is no skill needed to drive a vehicle into a crowd, nor any difficulty involved in obtaining one. This makes a car, van or lorry an ideal weapon for today’s terrorists, who are often inspired by a group but are not actually part of it, and for the most part, lack the training and means necessary for more complex attacks.

The second lesson is that there is now little discrimination in targeting. This means tourists are very much in the line of fire. A decade or so ago, Islamic militant groups sought to send specific messages through their violence. Random attacks against unarmed civilians were seen as ineffective, and even counter-productive in terms of garnering public support in the Muslim world. The 9/11 attack was launched against targets seen by al-Qaida as symbols of US economic, political and military power.

In 2004, Spain was the target of the bloodiest jihadi attack on European soil when commuter trains were bombed by al-Qaida sympathisers in Madrid. One aim was to undermine Spanish support for military intervention in Iraq, and influence an election. Spain was also a particular target because of the historic resonance for militants of the Islamic kingdom of Andalusia, lost to Christendom 900 years ago.

This has changed. Isis has led a broader shift towards attacking anyone, anywhere, anyhow. Public spaces, always inherently vulnerable, are now more at risk than ever. Music fans in Manchester, summer revellers in Nice, pub-goers in London, and of course tourists, whether taking pictures on Westminster Bridge, on a beach in Tunisia, or on an airplane returning to Russia from Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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Blaming religion for Middle East violence ignores nuance and absolves governments of their responsibility

Tristan Dunning writes: As the Islamic State group’s territorial project slowly but inexorably comes to an end in Iraq and Syria, the White House is once again trotting out the twin rationales of foreign fighters and the impending apocalypse to absolve itself of any responsibility for the rise and spread of extremist militant Islam.

Last week, US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk revealed that the US-led coalition was compiling a database of foreign jihadists fighting for IS, thereby signalling that the White House may be preparing to shift the focus of its operations from the ongoing recruitment bazaars of Iraq and Syria, to the putative eschatological battle against extremist militant Islam on a global level.

In similar vein, White House Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka asserted earlier this year that IS propagated the idea that Judgement Day was nigh and that now was the last chance to engage in jihad and thereby ascend to Paradise.

Invocations of such rationales as official explanations for the rise and persistence of extremist militant Islam are not only misleading, but also potentially counterproductive and dangerous. There are a variety of other more mundane reasons at play aside from supposed religious dogma. [Continue reading…]

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In Yemen’s secret prisons, UAE tortures and U.S. interrogates

The Associated Press reports: Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.

The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials. All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years.

The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present. [Continue reading…]

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France’s Macron says sees no legitimate successor to Syria’s Assad

Reuters reports: President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he saw no legitimate successor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and France no longer considered his departure a pre-condition to resolving the six-year-old conflict.

He said Assad was an enemy of the Syrian people, but not of France and that Paris’ priority was fighting terrorist groups and ensuring Syria did not become a failed state.

His comments were in stark contrast to those of the previous French administration and echo Moscow’s stance that there is no viable alternative to Assad.

“The new perspective that I have had on this subject is that I have not stated that Bashar al-Assad’s departure is a pre-condition for everything because nobody has shown me a legitimate successor,” Macron said in an interview with eight European newspapers.

“My lines are clear: Firstly, a complete fight against all the terrorist groups. They are our enemies,” he said, adding attacks that killed 230 people in France had come from the region. “We need everybody’s cooperation, especially Russia, to eradicate them.” [Continue reading…]

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ISIS captures Tora Bora, once Bin Laden’s Afghan fortress

The New York Times reports: Tora Bora, the mountain redoubt that was once Osama bin Laden’s fortress, fell to the Islamic State early Wednesday, handing the extremists a significant strategic and symbolic victory, according to Afghan officials and local elders and residents.

Taliban fighters who had previously controlled the extensive cave and tunnel complex fled overnight after a determined, weeklong assault by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, according to villagers fleeing the area on Wednesday.

Hazrat Ali, a member of Parliament and a prominent warlord from the area who helped the Americans capture Tora Bora from Al Qaeda in 2001, said that the offensive was prompted by the American decision to drop the so-called mother of all bombs on an Islamic State network of tunnels in Achin District in April. The 20,000-pound bomb was thought to be the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed.

The Islamic State then decided to shift its refuge to the Tora Bora caves and tunnels, Mr. Ali said. “Some 1,000 ISIS militants were gathered close to Tora Bora, to capture the area,” Mr. Ali said. “I informed government forces to target them, and I told them they are trying to capture Tora Bora, but they did not pay attention.” [Continue reading…]

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The $1bn hostage deal with Al Qaeda and Iran that enraged Qatar’s Gulf rivals

Financial Times reports: Qatar paid up to $1bn to release members of the Gulf state’s royal family who were kidnapped in Iraq while on a hunting trip, according to people involved in the hostage deal — one of the triggers behind Gulf states’ dramatic decision to cut ties with Doha.

Commanders of militant groups and government officials in the region told the Financial Times that Doha spent the money in a transaction that secured the release of 26 members of a Qatari falconry party in southern Iraq and about 50 militants captured by jihadis in Syria. By their telling, Qatar paid off two of the most frequently blacklisted forces of the Middle East in one fell swoop: an al-Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria and Iranian security officials.

The deal, which was concluded in April, heightened concerns among Qatar’s neighbours about the small gas-rich state’s role in a region plagued by conflict and bitter rivalries. And on Monday, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain took the extraordinary step of cutting off diplomatic ties and transport links to Qatar, alleging the country fuels extremism and terrorism.

“The ransom payments are the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said one Gulf observer.

Doha denies it backs terrorist groups and dismissed the blockade by its neighbours as “founded on allegations that have no basis in fact”. It said it could not immediately respond to a request for comment on the hostage deal. But a person close to the Qatari government acknowledged that “payments” were made. The person was unaware of the amounts or where the money went. [Continue reading…]

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Short of allies, Syria’s rebels are down but not out

The Associated Press reports: They are veterans of Syria’s rebellion, trying for years to bring down President Bashar Assad. But these days they’re doing little fighting with his military. They’re struggling to find a place in a bewildering battlefield where several wars are all being waged at once by international powers.

Syria’s civil war has become a madhouse of forces from Turkey, the United States, Syrian Kurds, the Islamic State group, al-Qaida as well as Assad’s allies Russia, Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi and Afghan Shiite militias — all with their own alliances and agendas.

Syrian rebel factions, battered by defeats and as divided as ever, reel around trying to find allies they can trust who will ensure their survival.

“We have become political dwarfs, fragmented groups which hardly have control over the closest checkpoint, let alone each other,” said Tarek Muharram, who quit his banking job in the Gulf to return home and join the rebellion in 2011.

Over the years he fought alongside several different rebel groups, including ones backed by the United States. Now he has now joined the alliance led by the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Rebel leaders have limited options — none of them good. They can line up behind Turkey, which is recruiting factions to fight its own war in Syria against Syrian Kurds primarily, as well as Islamic State militants.

Or they can ally themselves with al-Qaida’s affiliate, the strongest opposition faction. It leads a coalition that is still battling Assad and dominates the largest cohesive rebel territory, encompassing the northwestern province of Idlib and nearby areas.

Or they can try to go it alone.

Despite differences with Washington, all of them hope for support from the United States. But they feel it has abandoned them after deciding to arm and finance Kurdish-led militias to fight IS.

They see an enemy in IS but also potentially in the Kurds, who have carved out their own territory across northern Syria. Now in the fight against IS, the Kurds could capture Sunni Arab-majority regions like Raqqa and Deir el-Zour, to the alarm of the mainly Sunni Arab rebels.

The Associated Press spoke to a series of veteran rebels who move between Syria and Turkey and found them desperate for resources and support but intent on fighting for years to come. [Continue reading…]

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Manchester bombing suspect likely did not act alone

NBC News reports: [A] U.S. intelligence official who has direct knowledge of the investigation had told NBC News that Abedi’s device was “big and sophisticated,” using materials hard to find in Britain — meaning “it’s almost impossible to see he didn’t have help.”

Abedi — a 22-year-old British national whose family is of Libyan descent — had ties to al Qaeda, received terrorist training abroad and traveled to Libya within the last 12 months, the source added.


A “follow-on” attack is possible, the official said.

France’s interior minister said Wednesday that Abedi was believed to have traveled to Syria and had “proven” links to ISIS. He did not provide details. [Continue reading…]

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Trump may have just increased the risk of a terrorist attack on the U.S.

In response to the latest political firestorm Donald Trump has created, he has done what he usually does: jumped onto Twitter.


In other words, Trump divulged highly classified information with Russia because when it comes to fighting terrorism we’re all on the same side.

That’s the way it might look to an ignorant president and his equally ignorant supporters, but in reality the situation is much more complicated.

Just days ago, Alan Dershowitz criticized the hyperbolic tone of political discourse these days by tweeting:


Dershowitz’s reaction to the latest turn of events, however, showed that he is no less susceptible to extreme reactions — or that in this case he is correctly assessing the gravity of what just happened.


Dershowitz speculates that Israel may have been the source of intelligence that Trump revealed to the Russians:

“Let’s take the following hypothetical: What if it was Israel who provided this intelligence?” he said on an interview on MSNBC.

He warned that if Israeli intelligence was shared with Russia, then Russia could send it to Iran and Hezbollah, two of Israel’s foes.

The issue here may or may not be the content of the intelligence if it was gathered by Israel. Just as important would be the implied cooperation of any states in the region being seen to facilitate Israeli operations.

If, for instance, Israel, with Saudi Arabia’s consent, is gathering intelligence in Yemen, there can be little doubt that Russia and Iran could use this information to apply political pressure on the Saudis both in Yemen and Syria.

If as a result these intelligence gathering operations are curtailed this will then help ISIS and al Qaeda.

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U.S. attack on the Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque near Aleppo

Human Rights Watch reports: Just before 7 p.m. on March 16, 2017, US aircraft attacked the Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque near al-Jinah, a village in Aleppo province in northern Syria, where about 300 people had gathered for religious lectures and the Muslim Isha’a, or night prayer. The attack completely destroyed the service section of the mosque and killed at least 38 people.

US military authorities have acknowledged that they carried out the strike, saying that they targeted a meeting of al-Qaeda members. A US military spokesperson said that the US military carried out extensive surveillance before the attack and that they take “extraordinary measures to mitigate the loss of civilian life” in such operations. However, Human Rights Watch research suggests that US authorities failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid or minimize civilian casualties in the attack, a requirement under the laws of war.

While US officials acknowledged that there was a mosque nearby, they claimed that the targeted building was a partially constructed community hall. But information from local residents, photographs, and video footage of the building before and after the attack show that the targeted building was also a mosque. While the mosque did not have a minaret or a dome that would have been visible by aerial surveillance, local residents said that dozens, if not hundreds, of people were gathering in the building at prayer times. Aerial surveillance of the building should have shown this. Local residents also said that the mosque was well known and widely used by people in the area. Any attempt to verify through people with local knowledge what kind of building this was would have likely established that the building was a mosque. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. has launched 70 air strikes in Yemen in little over a month

The Hill reports: The Pentagon carried out roughly 20 strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda militants since last week, putting the total number of strikes past 70 in a little over a month, a Defense Department spokesman said Monday.

The strikes are aimed at al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni al Qaeda branch that is considered the terrorist organization’s most lethal branch.

“We continue to target [al Qaeda] in Yemen, and this is done in the interest of disrupting this terror organization that presents a very significant threat to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters.

The United States conducted multiple airstrikes in Yemen this past weekend, according to reports out of the area. Davis would not say specifically how many airstrikes took place, instead saying that there have been 20 additional strikes since the middle of last week.

“Since Feb. 28, we’ve conducted more than 70 precision airstrikes against AQAP militants’ infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military denies reports it bombed mosque in Syria

The New York Times reports: The United States military said that it had carried out an airstrike against a meeting of Qaeda militants on Thursday in Syria and that a number of the extremists had been killed.

The American military statement came as Syria activists reported that a mosque had been bombed and that scores of innocent civilians had been killed and wounded.

A spokesman for the United States Central Command said the American aircraft had struck a nearby building, but did not hit the mosque.

“We did not target any mosques,” said Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for the Central Command, which has responsibility for American military missions in the Middle East. “What we did target was destroyed. There is a mosque within 50 feet of that building that is still standing.”

But one local activist, Mohamed al Shaghel, said the people who had been struck had “no affiliation with any military faction or any political side.”

“I passed by the hospital,” he said. “I was told that about 50 were killed and 50 wounded. Rescuers are still looking for bodies under the rubble.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrike took place in Al Jinah, a village between the cities of Idlib and Aleppo. It said 42 people had been killed, most of them civilians, and described the attack as a “massacre.” [Continue reading…]

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Al Qaeda is starting to swallow the Syrian opposition

Charles Lister writes: After six years of conflict, Syria and its people have been completely transformed. The effects of a crisis that has killed nearly a half-million people and forced nearly 11.5 million more from their homes are now etched into the many identities to which Syrians attach themselves. While a majority of Syrians vigorously resist the formal breakup of their country, it is impossible to ignore how the brutal and protracted war has instilled deep divisions in a once-cohesive society.

In many areas of the country, battle lines remain physically drawn among villages that once lived in harmony. And the sectarian dynamic that was once supported only by extremist fringes has started to decisively shape the mainstream opposition.

The origins of this dynamic lie with President Bashar al-Assad, who was quick to label the peaceful protest movement of early 2011 as a “foreign conspiracy.” This conspiracy, Assad claimed in mid-2011, was one being led by Sunni “terrorists” — many dozens if not hundreds of which he had released from prison in March, May, and June 2011. Assad’s sectarian framing of the crisis and his cynical positioning of himself as the protector of Syria’s minorities not only allowed him to bolster his base, but also guaranteed that extremists within the opposition would gradually see their sectarian narrative thrive.

And that is, more or less, what has happened. The Syrian opposition is at its weakest point since 2012, and international trends are moving against it. The United States has distanced itself from the “Assad must go” narrative and seen its attention diverted by its own election; Europe is distracted by refugees and Brexit; and Turkey has done an about-face and, in effect, sold Aleppo to Russia. Meanwhile, Moscow, Tehran, and Hezbollah have methodically enhanced their military commitments to the Assad regime, guaranteeing at minimum its survival.

Amid these challenges, Syria’s opposition has entered into a period of introspection and great internal strain. Placed under concerted pressure — whether by Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the south, or by Turkey and Qatar in the north — and faced with few other options, Syria’s non-al-Qaeda armed opposition demonstrated their pragmatism by agreeing to attend political talks in Kazakhstan and Switzerland, even though their popular base remained deeply opposed to such signals of “compromise,” and few of the attendees expected the talks to succeed.

But Syria’s armed opposition is also changing as a result of internal pressures. Al Qaeda’s Syrian representatives — rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) in July 2016 and then renamed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) after subsuming several other groups in January — have been relentless, and patient, in pursuing their long-term objective: a merger of all armed Syrian opposition groups under its broad transnational Islamic umbrella. Al Qaeda has commonly called this goal a “uniting of the ranks.” [Continue reading…]

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Al Qaeda now leads the fight against Assad

Shiraz Maher writes: On 9 February, a grey-bearded and balding Syrian rebel commander wearing military dress appeared in an internet video calling for greater unity among the forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad. This was unremarkable. Syria’s rebel groups frequently issue unity statements, merge units and create umbrella groups – many of which, like the fruit of the medlar tree, turn rotten before they turn ripe.

Yet the message from Hashem al-Sheikh – a native of Aleppo imprisoned by Assad in 2005 for his jihadi beliefs and then released along with other Islamist prisoners in 2011 in an attempt to poison the nascent uprising against the regime – was hugely important in the context of the Syrian Civil War: it signalled the potential subsuming of the entire Syrian opposition to radical and reactionary forces, and to al-Qaeda in particular.

In the video, Hashem al-Sheikh announ­ced the creation of a powerful, extremist-dominated entity known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), or the “Committee for the Liberation of the Levant”.

One of the main groups that joined the new committee is Nur al-Din al-Zenki, a corrupt and brutal Islamist movement that was once backed by the CIA as a “vetted organisation”, though this designation was later revoked. In July last year, five months before Aleppo fell to Assad’s forces, the group’s members were filmed beheading Abdullah Tayseer in the eastern part of the city. Tayseer was a 13-year-old boy whom they accused of fighting for the regime.

Far more significant was the folding into HTS of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which until July was known as Jabhat al-Nusrah – and which represented al-Qaeda on the ground in Syria. JFS, comprised mainly of local fighters, had earned a degree of popular support among civilians because of its fighters’ valour and lack of corruption. The rebranding was an attempt by its leaders to recast it as a broader part of the overall uprising, and to capitalise on ordinary Syrians’ hatred of Islamic State (IS), which is widely seen as having usurped the revolution and diverted its aims.

Consequently, al-Qaeda has pursued an audacious line of messaging that seeks to portray the group in Syria as a responsible actor that follows a “middle path” between acquiescence and extremism. The corollary is clear: that it is both authentic and organic. “JFS is not a fringe group that exists on another planet,” wrote a spokesman, Mos­tafa Mahamed, shortly after it rebranded in 2016. “It is deeply embedded in society, made up from the average Syrian people.” [Continue reading…]

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Al-Qaeda likes Steve Bannon so much, they put him on the cover of their official newspaper

Amanda Erickson writes: The way al-Qaeda tells it, the West is locked in an existential war with Islam. This is how the terrorist group justifies its violence and its fundamentalist ideology. And now it has found a Westerner to back them up — top Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

Bannon graced the cover (above the fold!) of the most recent al-Qaeda-linked Al Masra newspaper. That prominence, University of Oxford researcher Elisabeth Kendall told Quartz, is “striking.”

The piece focused on Bannon’s views of Islam, saying he believes that “the forces of Islam cannot be stopped by peaceful means.” The paper cited a conversation Bannon had with a Danish journalist in May 2016. It also claimed that Bannon believes that the struggle is really between Christianity and Islam, not just Islam and the West. And it suggested that Bannon has “lost confidence in secular Europe, and sees Muslim immigrants as partially responsible for the retreat of traditional Christian values.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump has given terrorist groups a propaganda victory beyond their wildest dreams

Amarnath Amarasingam writes: Nine days after 9/11, George W. Bush declared during an address to a joint session of Congress that every nation now “has a decision to make,” that “either you are with us or with the terrorists.” Jihadists saw his statement as a gift from God. They argued that with this line drawn in the sand, members of the Muslim community now had a clear view of the parade of sellouts, hypocrites and “white-washed” Muslims among them. It would be obvious who was on the side of the Muslim community and who, as ISIS wrote in the seventh issue of its English-language magazine Dabiq, would rush “to serve the crusaders led by Bush in the war against Islam.”

According to jihadists, this opportunity to unearth the true Muslims, those who had the community’s back and those who didn’t, was a gift from above. As Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden claimed at the time in an interview, which was also later reproduced in the same Dabiq article, this line in the sand basically meant that “either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.”

Sixteen years later, what do jihadists think of Donald Trump? It’s an important question to explore and pose to jihadists themselves, because it influences their propaganda and their stance toward the United States, and may predict how they behave in relation to Western states. Over the past three years, on a variety of text-messaging applications and social media platforms, I have been interviewing foreign fighters from Western countries who are fighting in Syria and Iraq.

After Trump’s election victory, I asked five fighters for their thoughts on Trump. Initially, they weren’t convinced that Trump would be different from any other American president, who, since 9/11, has been, according to them, bombing Muslims and killing civilians. But then Trump spoke, put forth executive orders and seemed to fan the flames of the far right.

As time went on, these jihadists began to argue that Trump represents “real” America. Trump was saying what Americans and politicians always privately thought about Muslims but were too afraid to say in public. [Continue reading…]

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