Turkey Planning to Eliminate Kurdish PKK Insurgents in the Coming Year

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Turkey’s leading politicians and security officials gathered at the Prime Minister’s residence on September 11 to discuss approaches for Turkey’s ongoing struggle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK). Despite a long summer of small-scale attacks on Turkish security forces in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey and a series of deadly urban bombings carried out by the PKK or their allies, there is a belief at the highest levels of Turkey’s decision-makers that the PKK has been substantially weakened by military strikes against its infrastructure in northern Iraq and may be ready for a death blow to be delivered by Turkish forces in the coming year.

Basbug 3General Ilker Basbug

The meeting was chaired by Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan and was attended by new chief-of-staff of the Turkish Armed Forces (Turk Silahlı Kuvvetleri –TSK) General Ilker Basbug, Land Forces commander General Isik Kosaner, Gendarmerie commander General Atila Isik, National Police Chief Oguz Kagan Koksal, National Intelligence Organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati – MIT) undersecretary Emre Taner, and the government’s most important cabinet ministers (Hurriyet, September 11; Today’s Zaman, September 12).

While the security summit discussed various military options, including further large-scale incursions across the border with Iraq to attack PKK bases there, participants also looked at various economic, social, and legal options to suppress militant separatist activity within Turkey’s Kurdish population.

Intelligence reports prepared for the meeting by the General Staff, the Gendarmerie Command, and the MIT interpreted the recent rash of urban bombings as a sign of the PKK’s diminished ability to mount more conventional guerrilla operations in southeastern Turkey. According to a statement released after the security summit, “the duration of this fight against the separatist terrorist organization [a government euphemism for the PKK], which is close to the breaking point, is growing shorter” (Today’s Zaman, September 13).

Statistics provided in documentation prepared for the meeting showed the intensification of Ankara’s war with the PKK. 87 Turkish soldiers were killed in combat with the PKK in 2006, 114 in 2007 and 178 in the first six months alone of 2008. These losses, however, are still far smaller than figures from the 1990s, as are the total number of armed encounters with PKK fighters. Turkish figures for PKK losses revealed 250 militants killed so far this year during cross-border operations into northern Iraq, with another 514 killed inside Turkey. An additional 222 PKK fighters either surrendered or were captured by Turkish security forces from January to August this year (Today’s Zaman, September 13; Turkish Daily News, September 17).

Regional development projects such as the $12 billion Southeastern Anatolia Project (Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi – GAP) were an important part of the discussions as a means of addressing the chronic unemployment problem of southeastern Turkey, which helps feed a steady stream of recruits to the PKK bases. Covering nine provinces that currently see high levels of PKK activity, GAP is intended to raise living standards and resolve issues of economic disparity with the rest of Turkey. The construction of dams, irrigation schemes, new airports, power plants and other infrastructure is now underway in the much delayed project, first planned in the 1970s. Besides its regional goals, the massive development scheme is also expected to aid Turkey’s integration into the European Union (gap.gov.tr).

PKK MilitantsPKK Militants in Diyarbakir

Efforts are currently underway to identify places where PKK militants might prepare winter shelters as bases for terrorist attacks inside Turkey’s urban areas. Only two days after the summit, the TSK General Staff declared the provinces of Sirnak, Siirt, Batman, Van and Hakkari to be Temporary Security Zones for the next three months. The designation gives Turkish security forces extraordinary powers to prevent the establishment of PKK bases and supply routes through the mountainous and often lightly populated regions of the five provinces.

When Turkey’s parliament resumes sessions on October 1, the government is expected to ask for approval for a one-year extension to the current mandate allowing cross-border strikes into northern Iraq, which expires on October 17. With the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) controlling 341 of the assembly’s 550 seats, the resolution is expected to pass easily. The AKP is reported to be disappointed in the failure of Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq to take action against PKK personnel in the area. Turkey’s opposition Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi – MHP) has suggested it will vote in favor of the motion but accuses the AKP of being ineffective in dealing with PKK terrorism due to its desire to win ethnic Kurdish support away from the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (Demokratik Toplum Partisi – DTP) in upcoming regional elections (Hurriyet, September 12; NTV, September 16).

The improved regime of intelligence cooperation with the United States will continue to play a major role in Turkey’s offensive against the PKK. On the same day as the summit in Ankara, the U.S. State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism, Dell Dailey, declared Turkey and the United States “have intelligence sharing comparable to no other cooperation among other world states” (Hurriyet, September 11). Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Turkey only days after the security summit for talks with President Abdullah Gul and General Basbug. Admiral Mullen pledged continued U.S. backing for Turkish operations, noting: “The operations that the U.S. supported were very effective last year” (Today’s Zaman, September 16).

In the days prior to the security summit in Ankara, General Basbug made a visit to Diyarbakir, the chief city in the ethnic Kurdish southeast. Surprisingly, his focus was on the economic rather than security aspects of the campaign to end separatist violence in the region. In a meeting with the region’s major employers and NGOs, Basbug solicited ideas for offering young people in the area alternatives to militancy while stating that he would be keeping a close eye on the progress of the GAP initiative (Bianet.org, September 5; Vatan, September 13). The General stressed the need for vocational education for young men in the region as well as greater educational opportunities for women and children. Displaying a personal touch previously unknown in the usually reserved General Staff, Basbug then made a visit to the nearby city of Van, where he crossed security barriers to meet and converse with local people who had come out for the occasion. Widely cheered for the unexpected gesture, the General commented afterward, “This is the first time that I’ve witnessed our citizens’ respect and love for our armed forces at this level. These are decent citizens. That’s it. I will not forget this experience for the rest of my life” (Today’s Zaman, September 6).

Several days after the security summit, General Basbug held a “communication meeting” with the editors and Ankara correspondents of a number of Turkish newspapers, though the representatives of several other newspapers were pointedly excluded. Indicating what seemed to be a new willingness on the part of the General Staff to open a media front in the war against the PKK, Basbug promised weekly press briefings and round-the-clock access to a TSK spokesman. The new chief-of-staff expressed his desire that the TSK should not be dragged into political debates, an apparent shift from the General Staff’s previous willingness to insert itself into all manner of internal political matters. Basbug also warned against the publication of secret military documents, after several notable instances of such documents appearing in the pages of pro-government newspapers. Efforts to persuade senior military staff to leak information would no longer be tolerated (Turkish Daily News, September 17). On the PKK front, General Basbug suggested that the organization was unable to draw more recruits today than it did in 1990, but the PKK was now drawing heavily on Syria, Iran and European countries for new ethnic-Kurdish recruits. According to Basbug, one-third of the PKK is now Syrian in origin (Bianet.org, September 16; Turkish Daily News, September 17).

In the meantime the TSK continues to harass the PKK’s own cross-border operations. Officials of Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party announced on September 14 that Turkish artillery had shelled fourteen border villages in northern Iraq the same day (PUKmedia, September 14). General Basbug warned a week earlier that the Turkish military was ready to launch strikes in any kind of weather after the success of last February’s cross-border winter operations; “The message has been taken from Operation Gunes” (Today’s Zaman, September 6). General Basbug also made it clear the TSK will not allow this perceived opportunity to eliminate the PKK to slip away through a narrow focus on military options: “The PKK is heading towards a breaking point. What is important is how we will make use of it…. The organization has been in this situation before, but we made mistakes” (AFP, September 17).

This article first appeared in the October 1, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Controversial Security Chief of Iraq’s Kurdish Enclave Discusses War on Terrorism

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Masrur Barzani, the 39-year-old chief of Asayish, the leading security and intelligence service of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), gave a rare interview earlier this month (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 13). As the oldest son of KRG President Masud Barzani and cousin of KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the American-educated Masrur is centrally placed in the KRG’s hierarchy and is often touted as a possible successor to his father as president. Masrur insists his appointment was based solely on merit.

Kurds 1Masrur Barzani

Masrur described the continuing efforts to unify Kurdistan’s various intelligence agencies under a single legal framework. The main intelligence agency of Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the Parastin (“Protection”), while Jamal al-Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) operates the Dazgay Zanyari (“The Information Apparatus”). Both parties also maintain a number of smaller intelligence agencies.

After achieving de facto sovereignty in 1991, Kurdish authorities created Asayish in 1993 as a means of unifying the separate intelligence services under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. In practice the PUK and KDP ran separate Asayish organizations out of Sulaimaniyah and Irbil, respectively. This situation continued until 2004 when efforts began once again to unify operations, undoubtedly in response to the increased threat of terrorist attacks in the north following the American invasion of Iraq.

Responding to suggestions that Asayish receives training from the CIA and Israel’s Mossad, Masrur stated: “Frankly, if you want the whole truth from me, this news is totally untrue.” Masrur cites al-Qaeda, the Kurdish Ansar al-Islam, and the mixed Kurdish-Arab Ansar al-Sunnah as the main terrorist threats in northern Iraq. According to Masrur, Kurdish intelligence has operated against terrorist formations in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul “in coordination with Baghdad, not on our own initiative.” They have also acted against spies from “neighboring countries.” In the past, this has usually referred to Turkey, Syria, and Iran, each of which host Kurdish minority populations.

On the dispute between the KRG and Baghdad over the status of the town of Khanaqin, Masrur stated: “The Iraqi Army’s entry was not for the purpose of combating terrorism, for Khanaqin is very secure. The army entered for political reasons… Khanaqin is the most secure area in the Diyala Governorate. Saddam Hussein’s regime tried for many years to seize these areas by force but failed. Now, attempts are being made to take these areas from us by other means.”

Kurds 2Kamal Sayid Qadir

Kamal Sayid Qadir, an ethnic Kurdish law professor with Austrian citizenship, has emerged as Masrur Barzani’s personal nemesis. In October 2005, Qadir was arrested in Kurdistan and sentenced to 30 years in prison for “disgracing the Kurdish leadership… inappropriate articles… and cursing the Barzani tribe.” In a retrial a month later the sentence was reduced to 18 months. Following foreign appeals on his behalf, Qadir was pardoned and released a week later, but continued his attacks on the Barzanis (Uruknet.info, August 17). In December 2006, Qadir filed a lawsuit in Austria charging Masrur Barzani and four other members of the KRG and Kurdish intelligence services with kidnapping and torture (eKurd.net, December 28, 2006). Last February, Masrur and five of his bodyguards were arrested in Austria after Qadir was beaten and shot in the streets of Vienna (aljeeran.net, February 20; Kurdistan Post, February 20; Kurdish Aspect, February 26).

Though some human rights groups have portrayed Qadir as a righteous victim of a regime determined to suppress legitimate criticism, Qadir has frequently strayed from critiques of KRG corruption to make personal attacks on KRG leaders. In a culture highly sensitive to personal insult, Qadir has accused members of the Barzani clan of frequenting Russian prostitutes, referred to one clan member as a “homosexual” and publicly described Masrur Barzani as a “pimp.” His efforts to expose the Barzanis as KGB agents have also failed to win him any friends in the KRG (antiwar.com, August 31, 2005; Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2007). In a 2006 interview, Qadir acknowledged that some of his language was inappropriate, adding: “I want to mention that the gentlemen of the Asayish in Irbil said they did not want to prohibit me from writing, but that the thing they do not want me to do is to use words that I have used in some articles” (RFE/RL, March 7, 2006).

Masrur was not questioned directly about the Qadir case in the interview, but in denying reports of security service responsibility for the murders of a number of journalists, he noted “There are writers and journalists who can tell the difference between freedom of expression and assaults on others. There are some who cannot tell the difference and think that whatever they write falls under the heading of freedom of the press even if it slanders others.”


This article first appeared in the September 24, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Al-Qaeda Planning Strike on Uganda in Retaliation for Somalia Peacekeeping Efforts?

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Kenyan intelligence reports that fugitive terrorist Fazul Abdullah Muhammad may be planning an attack on Kampala in retaliation for the Ugandan military’s ongoing participation in African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping efforts in Somalia. Ugandan authorities have been notified and remain on high alert (The Standard [Nairobi], September 16).

Fazul Abdullah MuhammadA native of the Comoros Islands, Fazul Abdullah is wanted in connection with a long series of terrorist acts, including the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, the 2002 truck bombings of the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, and a failed missile attack on an Israeli airliner the same year. In August the terrorist suspect evaded a Kenyan police dragnet in the coastal town of Malindi where he was reported to be seeking treatment for a kidney ailment, though police captured two of his aides and seized documents and a laptop computer (New Vision [Kampala], September 16; The Standard, September 16).

In a sign of the growing distance between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the more militant al-Shabaab fighters, the ICU issued a detailed statement on September 14 calling on al-Shabaab to abandon their threat to destroy any aircraft using the Mogadishu airport. A Ugandan military plane defied the threat from al-Shabaab, landing amidst a mortar barrage on September 19. The airport has been unused since (Somaliweyn, September 22). Al-Shabaab states the airport is being used to bring in Ugandan and Burundian “occupiers” (New Vision, September 15).

While acknowledging the problems posed to the resistance by AMISOM and Ethiopian military use of the airport, the ICU also noted the benefits to the Somali people through keeping the facility open, including movement in and out of the country, pilgrimage to the holy cities of Saudi Arabia, importation of needed foreign goods and the use of aircraft to send wounded civilians for emergency treatment abroad (al-Qaadasiya.com, September 14). The appeal has had no response from al-Shabaab so far.

Ugandan bases have been the frequent target of al-Shabaab hit-and-run mortar attacks and their convoys have been attacked by grenades, IEDs and small-arms fire. Two Ugandan soldiers were killed in a September 15 ambush on an AMISOM convoy on the Airport Road, near a Ugandan base. The attackers fired small arms from rooftops along the road. An AMISOM spokesman reported “AMISOM troops once again acted professionally and restrained themselves from firing into buildings that are known to be inhabited by the civilian population” (New Vision, September 15).

On September 22, Somali insurgents launched simultaneous attacks on the two main AMISOM bases in Mogadishu. Though AMISOM reported no casualties, 40 people were killed when shells fell on the city’s Bakara market (BBC, September 22). The previous evening an attack on the Ugandan base was repulsed, though Ugandan mortars were reported to have taken the lives of 18 civilians (Somaliweyn Media Center, September 22).

In an interview with Iranian TV, a spokesman for the Hawiye clan (the largest clan in Mogadishu) accused Ugandan troops of responsibility for the deaths of a large number of civilians. Ahmed Dirie demanded that Uganda withdraw and stop supporting the Transitional Federal Government (Press TV, September 20).

1,600 newly trained Ugandan troops are expected to relieve the current force in Somalia sometime in October. Although the UN specifies a six-month rotation schedule for peacekeepers, the Ugandan force in Mogadishu has not been relieved since their arrival in March 2007. A Ugandan People’s Defence Force spokesman said Uganda has been unable to rotate forces due to ongoing insecurity in Somalia and logistical difficulties (UGPulse.com, September 14).

This article first appeared in the September 24, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Indian Mujahideen Exploit Internet Security Weaknesses in Bombing Attacks

Andrew McGregor

September 18, 2008

A lengthy email statement claiming responsibility for the September 13 bombings in New Delhi that killed over 30 people and wounded over 100 more was issued minutes before the attack began.

The 13-page Indian Mujahiden (IM) email (which included video and graphics) was sent to various TV stations from al_arbi_delhi@yahoo.com (al-Arbi = “The Arab”), the same address used in the IM statement that accompanied the July 26 Ahmedabad bombings. IM is believed to be a front for the radical Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

The IM message informs the Indian government that the movement will “make you face the disastrous consequences of the injustice and oppression inflicted upon the Muslims all over the country… We will continue to punish you even before your earlier wounds have healed.” The bombings are intended to “prove to you the ability and potential of [the] Indian Mujahideen to assault any city of India at any time.” The Delhi bombings are described as “a tribute to all our brethren martyrs in Kashmir.” The authors included a challenge to Indian police: “Do whatever you want and stop us if you can” (Times of India, September 14; The Hindu, September 14).

Within hours of the New Delhi attack Indian investigators arrived at the originating point of the email, the offices of Kamran Power Control Pvt Ltd, located in the Chembur suburb of Mumbai, where they began searching through the company’s computers for evidence (Times of India, September 14; The Hindu, September 14). The 25-year-old firm manufactures electronic control panels for industrial use. It was eventually determined that the email’s author had hacked into the company’s wireless network.

The Mumbai firm’s wireless network was unsecured, making it a simple task for IM to hack into it. The Indian government has been slow to develop cyber-crime legislation and internet security provisions and software are widely ignored. A New Delhi-based internet security firm estimates that “Ninety-nine percent of people [in India] don’t know how to secure their wireless connection, even big companies” (Economic Times [India], September 14).

This is the third time IM has hacked into a computer’s wireless internet connection to make a claim of responsibility in a terrorist attack. The IM leadership is believed to include several IT experts, including its leader, former software engineer Abdul Subhan Qureshi, and a computer graphics designer from Gujarat named Qayamuddin. An email claim of responsibility for the July 26 blasts in Ahmedabad was traced to the Mumbai computer of an American national who was cleared of any role in the case after it was determined his WiFi connection had been hacked. The last three IM email messages have all come from Mumbai, thought to be Abdul Subhan’s base (Times of India, September 14). Besides the Mumbai-based Subhan, a number of other leading members of SIMI are believed to operate from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states. IM emails are typically sent only five minutes before a bombing, allowing no time to take preventive measures. The IM bombs are usually planted in areas of dense activity, with shrapnel and ball-bearings included to insure maximum casualties.

Indian authorities believe that the authors of earlier IM email manifestoes, cleric Abdul Bashir Qasmi and Lucknow businessman Shahbaz Husain (a.k.a. Guru al-Hindi), are now under detention. Though the latest statement was co-signed by Abdul Subhan and Guru al-Hindi, the electronically reproduced signature of the latter differs from earlier examples (The Hindu, September 14).

This article first appeared in the September 18, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Australian Convicted of Compiling Terrorism Manual under Anti-Terrorism Legislation

Andrew McGregor

September 18, 2008

On September 10 Sydney resident and former Qantas Air baggage handler Belal Sadallah Khazaal became the second individual to be convicted under Australia’s Terrorism Act, introduced in 2003. The conviction by the New South Wales Supreme Court on a charge of “knowingly making a document connected with assistance in a terrorist act” came as a result of Khazaal’s publication of a 110 page Arabic-language terrorism manual, Provisions on the Rules of Jihad – Short Judicial Rulings and Organizational Instructions for Fighters and Mujahidin Against Infidels. Khazaal published the work in 2003 under the name Abu Mohamed Attawheedy and posted it to the almaqdese.com website. No verdict was reached on a second charge of urging others to commit a terrorist act.

KhazaalBelal Sadallah Khazaal

The police investigation began with a series of interviews by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in April 2004, followed by a search of Khazaal’s home in May and his arrest in June 2004. An AFP case officer testified that Khazaal attempted to take the publication down from the almaqdese.com website following the search of his house (News.com.au, August 25).

Defense claims that the book was simply a collation of articles dealing with terrorism were damaged by the explicit lists of individuals and countries targeted for assassination or terrorist attacks. The latter list included Khazaal’s home country of Australia. While the first half of the book focused on religious rulings concerning jihad, the second half described methods of assassination, kidnapping, sniping, setting booby-traps, poisoning, ambushing vehicles and shooting down planes (The Australian, September 11). Among several bizarre methods of assassination cited was a suggestion that “cake-throwing” could be made fatal by using adhesives instead of sweets, thus blinding and asphyxiating the victim. Another method called for sealing an abducted victim in a strong plastic bag, which would leave no marks on the body and could leave the impression it was suicide (Melbourne Herald Sun, August 15). The defense argued that the methods described were only “very, very general” (Sydney Morning Herald, August 21).

Khazaal’s attorney, George Thomas, suggested Khazaal was not responsible for the content of the book as he had plagiarized all of it from other sources with the exception of three paragraphs. Prosecutors argued that Khazaal had given the content his personal endorsement by publishing it under his own name (Sydney Morning Herald, September 11; The Australian, September 11). The defense also suggested Khazaal was acting in a professional capacity as a journalist, producing an expired membership card for the New South Wales branch of the Australian Journalists Association (News.com.au, August 25). Another witness testified that Khazaal was the author of two Arabic-language books and involved in the publication of a Sydney magazine called Nida’ul Islam (The Call of Islam) (Melbourne Herald Sun, August 26).

A number of groups claiming to represent Australia’s 280,000 Muslims have attacked the conviction and the Terrorism Act. A spokesman for the Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations suggested: “These terror laws have specifically made every Muslim a potential target for arrest by police” (Reuters, September 11).

A member of the Muslim Community Reference Group (a contact group created by the Australian government to improve relations with the Muslim community) was asked to spend two days examining Khazaal’s library of 3,000 books, 2,600 audiotapes, 600 videos and 40,000 pages of material downloaded from the internet. The material was described as being mostly “of a general nature on Islamic jurisprudence: on marriage, fasting, prayers, divorce” (The Australian, August 27).

Khazaal is facing a possible 15 years in prison on the conviction and may be retried on the second charge.

This article first appeared in the September 18, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Roundup of Azerbaijan’s “Forest Brothers” Follows Attack on Baku Mosque

Andrew McGregor

September 10, 2008

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of National Security (MNS) has arrested 13 members of the Islamist “Forest Brothers,” seizing weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, planning documents and maps in a combined operation involving a variety of Azeri security agencies (Azeri-Press Agency, September 2). One Special Forces member was killed and several wounded in fighting with several of the suspects. The Forest Brothers are a Salafi-Jihadi formation operating in southern Dagestan and the northern region of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan in pursuit of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. Many members of the organization are believed to have served under the late Rappani Khalilov, the former Amir of the Dagestani Front of the Caucasus resistance forces led by Chechen commander Dokku Umarov.

azerbaijanThe group’s leader, Ilqar Mollaciyev (a.k.a. Abdulmajid), his aide and relative Samir Mehdiyev (a.k.a. Sulayman) and two others are alleged to have crossed the border from Dagestan into Azerbaijan on July 19. At this point these men joined other militants deployed to Baku and Sumqayit to begin preparations for a jihad against the Azerbaijani government. According to security sources, the militants intended to create a Sumqayit Jamaat (Islamic community) responsible for raising funds through robberies in Baku. Following this the Quba-Qusar Jamaat would be formed to develop operational bases and ammunition depots in Azerbaijan’s mountainous north (Turan News Agency, September 2, Azeri-Press Agency, September 3; Interfax, September 3).

The MNS claims that some of the detainees have informed investigators that Mollaciyev and Mehdiyev organized the August 17 grenade attack on Baku’s Abu Bakr mosque, though the motive remains unclear from available information (Turan News Agency, September 2). The well-attended Abu Bakr mosque has been cited as a recruiting point for Islamists willing to fight in the Russian Caucasus, though its imam (who was among those wounded in the grenade attack) is careful to publicly encourage cooperation with Azerbaijan’s secular regime.

Though Azeri authorities have refrained from associating the “Forest Brothers” with Lezgin separatists in public statements, a statement from the Northern Region Department of the Azerbaijani State Committee for Religious Associations made an indirect reference to Lezgin associations with cross-border militants seeking a Lezgin state; “Ethnics living in the [Qusar] region know well that separatism does not benefit anyone. Law enforcement bodies are conducting necessary work to prevent their action” (Trend News Agency, September 2).

Kuwaiti Salafist missionaries made significant inroads in the Qusar region in the early 1990s. Lezgins form the vast majority in the region, where the Lezgin community was split from its Dagestani Lezgin counterparts by the creation of an international border between Dagestan and Azerbaijan in 1991. Most Lezgins are Sunni Muslims, while the majority of Azeris are Shi’a. The more secular Lezgin Sadval (Unity) Movement was responsible for a number of terrorist strikes in the 1990s and 2001 but has been relatively inactive since, never having gained popular support in the Lezgin community

This article first appeared in the September 10 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Mass Attack on French Paratroopers Heralds New Taliban Tactics

Andrew McGregor

September 2, 2008

Conflicting accounts of a Taliban ambush of an elite French military unit in the Surubi district of Kabul Province on August 18 have raised new concerns about the future of France’s politically unpopular deployment in Afghanistan. Ten soldiers were killed and 21 wounded in one of the largest Taliban operations since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The French troops were part of a fresh group of 700 soldiers committed by French president Nicolas Sarkozy to join over 2,000 French troops under International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command. When the new French troops arrived they relieved two American battalions in the Kapisa region, a strategically important district near Kabul (France 24, July 25). A French officer described the French troops involved in the ambush as “experienced” and “combat-capable” (Le Figaro, August 20). Nevertheless, the Taliban made a political statement by targeting the new additions to the French ISAF contingent. The proximity of a major Taliban operation to Kabul has alarmed many within the capital, who point out that previous attacks within Kabul’s security belt have heralded the eventual fall of the city to insurgent forces (Cheragh [Kabul], August 21).

Surubi 18e RPMIa in Afghanistan (Arnaud Guerin)

On August 18, 30 soldiers of the 8ème Régiment Parachutiste d’Infanterie de Marine (8th RPIMa – Airborne Infantry) and another 30 from the Régiment de Marche du Tchad (RMT) were tasked with reconnoitering the Uzbeen valley route between the Tagab district of Kapisa and the Surubi district of Kabul provinces. They were joined by two sections of Afghan troops and a unit of American Special Forces. Most of the French were carried in Armored Vanguard Vehicles (Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé – VAB), armored personnel carriers built by GIAT Industries.

Formed in 1951 for service in Indochina, the 8th RPIMa was dissolved after being virtually annihilated in the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu, only to be revived in 1956 for service in the Algerian conflict. Since its relocation from Algeria to the French garrison town of Castres in 1963, the 8th RPIMa has been deployed in at least fifteen countries on various missions, including recent deployments in the first Gulf War, Cambodia, Kurdish northern Iraq, the Congo, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. 500 paratroopers of the RPIMa were sent to Afghanistan in June and July.

“Marine” units like the 8th RPIMa are not comparable to the U.S. or British Marines; the name refers rather to the 19th century Ministère de la Marine which was responsible for French armed forces overseas, as opposed to the Metropolitan army, which came under the Ministry of War. The troupes de marine became troupes coloniales as part of the French Colonial Army in 1900 with a consequent change in the titles of the units involved, but the term “marine” was revived after the postwar collapse of the French empire to signify volunteer units designated for overseas service. The all-volunteer troupes de marine include infantry, light cavalry, artillery, and airborne infantry units.

Surubi 2VAB of the Régiment de Marche du Tchad in Afghanistan (Ministére de la Défense)

The Régiment de Marche du Tchad is a mechanized unit of the troupes de marine. Now based in France, the RMT was formed in 1943 from metropolitan soldiers serving in the Régiment des Tirailleurs Sénégalais du Tchad after rallying to the Free French cause during General Philippe Leclerc’s campaign in Chad. 450 members of the RMT were sent to Afghanistan in May; another 150 serve as peacekeepers in Lebanon (Le Parisien, October 20). The French force also included a small number of men from the 35ème Régiment d’Artillerie Parachutiste (35e RAP – Airborne Artillery Regiment).

The multinational force struggled through difficult terrain and extreme heat along a difficult and winding mountainous road in an area known for Taliban activity. Army chief of staff General Jean-Louis Georgelin described the ambush as “a well-organized trap” on “terrain that was extremely favorable to the enemy” (Le Monde, August 21). The ambush was launched at 3:30 PM after the paratroopers left their APCs to reconnoiter a pass on foot. As one survivor pointed out, the pass was nearly three hours out from the column’s starting point; “enough time for the Taliban to be warned by their accomplices of our arrival” (Le Monde, August 21). French General Michel Stollsteiner, ISAF commander in the Kabul region, stated; “In the past two weeks we had largely secured the zone but you have to be frank, we were guilty of overconfidence” (Reuters, August 25).

French press interviews with survivors of the ambush describe a rapid breakdown in command and communications, with Taliban marksmen taking down French soldiers at will. Among the first to be killed were the deputy section leader and the radioman of the advance unit. The warrant officer in command was shot in the shoulder. Soon afterwards the paratroopers’ radio communication with the RMT broke down. Heavily outnumbered, the French remained pinned down and under fire from small arms, machine guns and rocket launchers for four hours without reinforcements. Ammunition for all weapons other than their assault rifles ran out as the soldiers were unable to reach supplies still in their vehicles, although a VAB with a section from the 35e Régiment d’Artillerie Parachutiste in the rear of the column was able to deploy the vehicle’s machine gun and four 120mm mortars in support (La Depeche, August 21).

Some of the wounded alleged that their unit was hit by fire from their Afghan allies and NATO aircraft (Le Monde, August 21; AFP, August 21). Fire from A-10 Thunderbolts was directed by the American Special Forces while a pair of F-15 fighters passed through without using their weapons because the French and Taliban were too closely intertwined. An initial attempt by American helicopters to evacuate the wounded failed due to heavy fire. French EC725 Caracal helicopters arrived to provide fire support – one helicopter brought in a doctor and ten French commandos from the rapid reaction force in Kabul. A group leader from the rapid reaction force who arrived after a 90 minute drive through difficult terrain described the situation on his arrival; “We couldn’t see the enemy and we didn’t know how many of them there were. We started climbing, but after 20 minutes we started coming under fire from the rear. We were surrounded” (AFP, September 1). 81mm mortars also arrived with the reinforcements but helicopters were unable to evacuate the wounded until 8PM. Six hours after the ambush began, Taliban fighters began to break off, though many remained in the area, launching a last attack at 9AM the next day (La Depeche, August 24; Quotidien, August 21; AFP, August 21).

Despite official assurances that nearly all the casualties occurred in the first minutes of the ambush, other accounts suggested that four soldiers were captured before being killed by Taliban fighters (Telegraph, August 19; Independent, August 20). An investigative report by French weekly Le Canard enchainé claimed that the column’s interpreter disappeared only hours before the operation began, suggesting the French troops were betrayed either by the interpreter or by Afghan troops attached to the column. The report repeated the claim four French soldiers were captured and executed by the Taliban shortly after the ambush began (Le Canard enchainé; August 27).

During the rescue of the wounded, an armored car of the RMT overturned when the road collapsed and the vehicle fell into a ravine, killing a Kanak trooper from New Caledonia and injuring four others (Oceania Flash, August 20). A medic from the 2ème Régiment Etranger Parachutiste (Foreign Legion) was also killed after making several forays to bring in wounded comrades from the 8th RPIMa.

Unlike the first-hand accounts carried by the press, French Defense Minister Hervé Morin insisted that reinforcements were sent within 20 minutes and there were no indications of friendly fire (RTL, August 21). Pentagon and NATO spokesmen also denied having any evidence of such incidents. The Afghan Ministry of Defense stated that 13 Taliban fighters, including one Pakistani, were killed in the battle (Cheragh [Kabul], August 21). Some French officers claimed 40 to 70 militants were killed, but acknowledged finding only one body (AFP, September 1). Claude Guéant, general secretary of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, maintained “the majority of the assailants were not Afghans” (Reuters, August 23).

A Taliban statement entitled “New and Interesting Information on the Killing and Wounding of the French Soldiers in Surubi” claimed that hundreds of Taliban fighters using heavy and light weapons had overwhelmed a French infantry battalion of 100 men and 18 tanks (APCs?) and other military vehicles. The statement describes the infliction of “hundreds” of French casualties and the destruction of five tanks and eight other military vehicles before locals descended to loot abandoned French weapons (Sawt al-Jihad, August 22). The region in which the attack took place is considered a stronghold of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i Islami movement, which also issued a claim of responsibility for the attack (Afghan Islamic Press, August 19).

In the aftermath of the attack, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared, “Nobody is thinking of leaving Afghanistan,” but added a few days later, “We need what is called ‘Afghanization’, that’s to say to pass responsibilities, all responsibilities, as quickly as possible to the Afghans” (AFP, August 21; Reuters, August 25).

The ambush and recent suicide attacks on American outposts reveal an escalation in the violence and effectiveness of Taliban attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan. Added to the steady attrition of NATO, ISAF and U.S. personnel, these new attacks are intended to remind the West that despite seven years of campaigning, the Taliban are as strong as ever. Since the ambush, the French deployment in Afghanistan has come under sharp criticism from the public, the press, and opposition politicians. The French public has never had a taste for involvement in Afghanistan, reflected in a recent Le Parisien opinion poll that showed 55% of respondents believe France should withdraw from Afghanistan. With Prime Minister François Fillon calling for a September vote in parliament on the future of the French military commitment to Afghanistan, President Sarkozy’s efforts to expand France’s role in that country may come at a considerable political cost.


This article first appeared in the September 2, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus


Anti-Olympic Terrorist Plot by China’s Yi Ethnic Minority Alleged

Andrew McGregor

September 2, 2008

While most eyes were turned to the Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang as the possible source of a terrorist strike against last month’s Beijing Olympics, there are reports that members of a little-known Chinese ethnic minority, the Yi, may have been planning their own attack (ICHRD – Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, [Hong Kong], August 21).

Yi 1German Colonial-Era Buildings (foreground) in Cangkou (Tsingtao)

According to the Hong-Kong based ICHRD, on August 17 three men belonging to the Yi minority penetrated the security of the Cangkou military airport in Qingdao (Shandong Province), a Yellow Sea port and former German colony in northeast China once known as Tsingtao. The men, who were alleged to be carrying explosives, were discovered by a guard, and after a brief and unsuccessful struggle to seize the guard’s weapon the men fled, leaving behind explosives and personal documents that later led to their arrest. Cangkou airport played an important role as the source of flights monitoring algae formation off Qingdao, the site of the Olympic sailing events. The ICHRD speculated that “the suspects could have been trying to sneak into the airport and capture or hijack a plane, fly to the competition venues, and crash the plane into the Olympic village or among the competing teams.”

The three suspects were identified by security forces as Ehqi Lahe, Jiluo Lahou and Ehqi Lake, all of the Meigu County of Sichuan Province. Qingdao’s Public Security Bureau quickly denied the possibility of a terrorist plot, insisting that the men were part of a criminal gang that intended to steal from the airport (Zhongguo Xinwen She [Beijing], August 21; South China Morning Post, August 22). In a separate report, the ICHRD claimed that five boxes of explosives were stolen from a Meigu County ordnance factory on July 7 (ICHRD, August 21).

Yi 2Yi Minority Women

Though a 2000 census found more than 7 million Yi in southwest China, the minority is far from homogenous. There is little interaction between many Yi groups, who have developed distinct social systems, costumes, scripts, and languages, often in relative isolation. Some of the more remote sections of the Yi did not come under central Chinese control until after the Communists took over in 1949. Like the Uyghurs, certain Yi scholars maintain that their culture and civilization predates that of the dominant Han Chinese by thousands of years. The Yi are primarily found in the Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou provinces, as well as the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The Yi of Sichuan Province are deeply impoverished and have lately been disturbed by tourist development of their sacred lands in the region. An April investigative report by the Guangdong Southern Metropolis newspaper claimed that thousands of Yi children from the Liangshan district of Sichuan were being sold into slavery “like cabbages” to fuel the need for industrial labor in southern China.

A report from the government-owned Xinhua News Agency stated that 225 pilots from China’s ethnic minorities, including the Yi, were “working hard to ensure normal and safe operation of flights during the ongoing Beijing Olympic Games” (Xinhua, August 21).

Though the ICHRD is basically a one-man operation conducted by twice-imprisoned dissident Frank Lu Siqing, it is regarded as an authoritative source for reports on human rights issues in mainland China by the U.S. government and major news agencies including the BBC, VOA, CNN, and numerous others. Lu Siqing was granted permanent residence status in Hong Kong in 2000 under the “one country, two systems” policy of the Beijing government (AP, August 19, 2000). According to the ICHRD website, Lu Siqing operates a network of 5,000 informers within mainland China. The informers escape police scrutiny by calling Lu Siqing’s pager from a public telephone, a local call. Lu Siqing then calls them back on the same line. Lu Siqing has also suggested providing his informers with tiny “spy-rate” cameras and video cameras to document human rights abuses within China.


This article first appeared in the September 2, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus


The Amir of the Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq al-Salafi Army Describes the State of the Iraqi Resistance

Andrew McGregor

September 2, 2008

A jihadi website recently hosted an opportunity for its readers to pose questions to Abu Muhammad al-Iraqi, the Amir of Iraq’s Abu Bakr al-Siddiq al-Salafi Army, a Salafist group active since 2003 (hanein.net, August 19). The movement is named for the first of the “righteously guided Caliphs,” Abu Bakr, who during his short rule (632-634) initiated the Muslim conquest of Iraq from the Sassanid Persians under his outstanding general, Khalid ibn al-Walid.

Abu BakrPersian Representation of Caliph Abu Bakr

Abu Muhammad denies the participation of any Ba’athists in the Abu Bakr Army, asking how Salafis could possibly cooperate with secularists, though he acknowledges a small number of former Iraqi Army officers have joined the ranks of his movement – “they are few and with a righteous doctrine.” According to the Amir, there are no foreign Arab mujahidin in the Abu Bakr Army as a result of an early decision that such a move might prove divisive. Nonetheless, the movement “opened our homes for them and provided them with food, drinks, and assistance.”

The Abu Bakr Army has carried out a number of suicide operations. Abu Muhammad declares “the martyrdom-seeking operations are blessed because they denied the enemies sleep and terrified them.” In response to a question seeking the reason for an apparent decline in jihadi operations, Abu Muhammad suggested; “the decrease is general, and not limited to a specific faction, due to the recent situation,” possibly referring to the Coalition “surge.” The Amir also says that the Abu Bakr Army does not claim responsibility for military operations unless it has videotape of the action it can post on the internet; “If we cannot film any operation, regardless of its importance, we do not announce it. For years, this has been our approach and we have carried out innumerous operations of great importance that were tackled by media outlets, but we did not claim responsibility for them.”

Abu Muhammad describes the Baghdad government as followers of “the Jews and Christians,” and thus incapable of negotiating any settlement with the occupiers.

Our goal is the establishment of an Islamic state that is governed by the Koran and the Sunna, which are interpreted in the Salafi way. This will be the beginning of the declaration of the Islamic Caliphate that will include all Muslims from all different countries and ethnicities. The Caliphate cannot be based on nationalism and patriotism.” The Amir rejects the legitimacy of the Kurdish peshmerga militias and the Shi’a Mahdi Army (which he calls the Jaysh al-Dajjal, or Army of the Antichrist). He condemns the American-allied Awakening Councils, but suggests “many of the Awakening Councils were deceived and were given fatwas allowing them to enter the arena to protect the Sunni areas with the pledge not to attack the mujahideen.

Unification of the various resistance movements has proven difficult because of “the diversity of different methodologies, the lack of harmony among hearts, the trading of accusations, the hegemony attempts, the interference of external parties, wrong Shari’a policies, and blood shedding.” The leaders of the Abu Bakr Army have discussed the possibility of civil war between these groups, but Abu Muhammad does not expect such a development until the departure of the Americans.

This article first appeared in the September 2, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus