Central African Republic Claims Rebel Group Mounting Attacks in Retaliation for Arrest of Their Leader in Chad

Andrew McGregor

June 25, 2009

After the surprising detention of their leader in Chad, a Central African Republic (CAR) rebel group has mounted new attacks on government forces to press for his release, according to CAR government spokesmen. The rebels belong to the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix (Convention of Patriots for Peace and Justice – CPJP), led by the recently detained Charles Massi, a former minister of mines and agriculture in the government of the CAR. Massi was ousted from his post when the government of President Ange-Félix Patassé was overthrown by General François Bozizé, the current ruler of the CAR. In recent years the violence in the CAR has become closely tied to political violence in neighboring Chad and Darfur.

MassiCharles Massi

Rebels claimed to have killed 24 soldiers in the June 12 attack, while government forces claimed 15 rebels and three soldiers killed (AFP, June 17). According to the Defense Ministry, fighting began after the CPJP rebels attacked a Forces armées Centrafricaines (Central African Armed Forces – FACA) column at Akroub Soulban in the Ndele region (Le Confident [Bangui], June 15). CPJP spokesman Assan M’bringa Togbo said the combat, lasting several hours, began when six heavily armed FACA vehicles attacked their camp (AFP, June 13).

Massi’s arrest came unexpectedly after Massi left Paris for N’Djamena, where he had meetings with leading Chadian officials and sought President Idriss Déby’s mediation in his dispute with the CAR government (Le Confident [Bangui], June 8; June 11). His arrest was reported to have come in mid-May as he headed towards the CAR border (Radio France Internationale, June 5).  CAR President Bozizé has close ties with the Déby regime and came to power with Chadian military assistance. Many members of the Presidential Guard, the best-equipped element of the ramshackle armed forces, are from Chad.

Massi has been charged with “attempted destabilisation of a neighbouring country.” The CPJP has written Idriss Déby, asking for Massi’s release on the grounds he “in no way represents a danger either to internal or external security nor to the national and territorial security of Chad” (AFP, June 17).

It is difficult to say what direction the leaderless CPJP will now take, considering that the movement exists solely as a manifestation of Massi’s political ambitions. Junior Defense Minister Jean-Francis Bozizé (son of President Bozizé) says the CPJP is seeking to use any means “to maintain a climate of insecurity in the country” (AFP, June 17). The CPJP has established a stronghold in the Ndele region and has so far refused to participate in the CAR peace process, aimed at reconciling a host of rebel movements with the Bozizé government.

The other main rebel group still outside the peace process is led by General Abdoulaye Miskine (a.k.a. Martin Koumta-Madji), a Chadian mercenary who inserted himself into CAR politics after acting as a military adviser to President Patassé. With most of the CAR army based in Bangui, the rest of the country is open ground for rebel movements, cattle raiders and coupeurs de routes (highwaymen). Forming an armed group has become the standard way of expressing political viewpoints or resolving political disputes in the CAR. A Bangui daily reported the formation on May 23 of yet another rebel movement, the National Movement for the Fatherland’s Salvation, whose central dispute is with the leadership of an existing rebel movement, the Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (L’Hirondelle, June 11).

This article first appeared in the June 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

War with al-Qaeda Heats Up in Northern Mali after Assassination of Intelligence Officer

Andrew McGregor

June 25, 2009

Assassins believed to be with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) burst into the Timbuktu residence of a Malian intelligence officer on the evening of June 10, blowing half his head away with point-blank gunfire before making their escape. The veteran Arab officer had just made a number of high-profile arrests of AQIM members as part of an ongoing campaign against al-Qaeda elements in northern Mali (Le Challenger [Bamako], June 11; Nouvelle Libération, [Bamako], June 16).

TessalitTessalit Oasis

Troops pursued the assassins of the well-known officer into the Tadoudeni area of Northern Mali (an important region for salt mines), with the Salafists laying landmines behind them as they withdrew to the north (Info-Matin [Bamako], June 17).

Lieutenant Colonel Lamana Ould Bou was with Mali’s military intelligence and led operations against AQIM in northern Mali. He was a former member of the Front Islamique Arabe de l’Azawad (Arab Islamic Front of Azawad – FIAA), a rebel movement based around northern Mali’s Arab minority. He became a member of the Malian security forces after a peace accord was signed in 1991. His valuable contribution to anti-terrorist operations was described by a fellow officer: “As a native of Timbuktu Region, he had very profound knowledge of the area and knew where to find the enemy. So, of late, he had been of great assistance in tracking and arresting a score of Islamists and terrorists” (L’Independent [Bamako], June 16).

After a funeral attended by thousands, the army took revenge in a June 16 attack on an AQIM base in the Tessalit Oasis, killing anywhere from 16 to 26 fighters, though some sources suggest these numbers may be inflated {Le Républicain, June 18; al-Hayat, June 18). According to Malian military sources, the Salafist camp was under the command of Abd al-Hamid Abu Za’id. Three Bérabich Arab militiamen and two Malian regulars were killed when their military vehicle struck an AQIM landmine during the pursuit (Nouvelle Libération [Bamako], June 17). Arab and Tuareg militias have been increasingly employed by the Malian government for desert operations in remote northern Mali. Algerian security sources said the raid was part of an attempt to encircle AQIM forces near the Algerian border and liberate a Swiss hostage (al-Hayat, June 18).

According to reports from the Malian capital of Bamako, President Amadou Toumani Touré has been reluctant to enter into a full-scale campaign in the vast lands and harsh conditions of northern Mali, preferring a path of negotiations. Since security operations were scaled back after the defeat of Ibrahim Ag Bahanga’s Tuareg rebels in February, trafficking in arms and other contraband has increased in the north as the tribes begin to rearm for what they regard as an inevitable resumption of hostilities in the region (Le Matin [Bamako], June 17; Info-Matin, June 17; for Ag Bahanga, see Terrorism Focus, February 26). The government in Bamako is dominated by the southern Bambara tribe, part of the larger West African Mande group.

Algeria has been providing the Malian military with arms, fuel and ammunition to combat the Salafist militants in northern Mali (Le Républicain [Bamako], June 18). There are approximately 300 U.S. Special Forces trainers and advisers in Bamako, Gao and Timbuktu, as well as a smaller number of British troops. There are reports of American and British officials following closely behind the Malian offensive, questioning local tribes about the location and strength of AQIM forces in the region (al-Hayat, June 18). AQIM executed British hostage Edwin Dyer in Malian territory on May 31 after its demand for the release of al-Qaeda ideologist Abu Qatada was refused by the U.K. government.

This article first appeared in the June 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Suicide Bombing Kills Somali Security Minister as Islamists Mount Assault on Mogadishu

Andrew McGregor

June 25, 2009

A June 18 suicide bombing at the entrance of a hotel in the Somali town of Beled Weyne (the provincial capital of Hiraan province) killed Somalia’s Minister of Security, Colonel Umar Hashi Adan, the former Somali ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdikarim Farah Laqanyo, and at least 18 others (al-Jazeera [Doha], June 19; al-Arabiya [Dubai], June 18). Responsibility for the blast was claimed by al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere); “One of our Mujahedeen went with his car laden with explosives to a building where the apostate and other members from his group had been meeting… The apostates have been eliminated; they all died in the suicide attack” (AFP, June 18).

Beledweyne 1The Late Colonel Umar Hashi Adan

Another Shabaab spokesman, Ali Muhammad, told al-Jazeera: “I bring Muslims the joyful news of the destruction of one of the pillars supporting God’s enemies. God guided the mujahideen to a successful attack on an enemy stronghold, in which some of the leaders of apostasy were killed, including Ethiopia’s primary agent – the [Somali] security minister – and Ethiopian Army officers. It was a martyrdom operation that was executed by a mujahid hero affiliated with the Mujahideen Youth Movement [the full name of al-Shabaab] (al-Jazeera, June 18). Ali Muhammad warned of a wave of suicide bombings against traitors and foreign forces in Somalia.

The attack in Beled Weyne occurred at the end of a meeting between Somali government officials and Ethiopian military officers intended to discuss means of reversing the progress of the Islamist opposition coalition and preserving the diminishing government of President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad. Al-Shabaab is the only Somali faction known to use suicide attacks. The timing of the attack and its target was a clear warning to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that al-Shabaab will strike at anyone thought to be negotiating a return of the Ethiopian military to Somalia.

Carried out by three men in a Toyota, the attack on the Madina Hotel was carefully timed, occurring just as Colonel Umar Hashi was leaving the hotel with the Ethiopian army officers with whom he had been meeting. They were on their way to their vehicles in the hotel parking lot when the suicide bomber drove up to the entrance of the hotel before detonating the explosives. The 20 killed included a number of senior Ethiopian and Somali military officers (including Colonel Umar Hashi’s brother), government officials, local Beled Weyne security men and several civilians (Somaaljecel.com, June 18). The Security Minister was a native of Beled Weyne and there is speculation his death and the death of a number of other local authorities in the suicide bombing may galvanize the resistance of local clans to al-Shabaab in the Hiraan region (al-Jazeera, June 18).

A major battle was fought in the Hodan district of Mogadishu the day before the attack, killing 26 people, including Mogadishu’s police commander. Thirteen people were killed when a mortar shell struck a mosque (AFP, June 17). The fighting was Hizb al-Islam’s response to TFG attacks on Hizb al-Islam military bases in Hiraan region the day before (Shabelle Media Networks, June 17). The Hizb al-Islam – al-Shabaab coalition has penetrated parts of the capital and is mounting a fierce campaign to dislodge the TFG and those Islamists supporting President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad. Hizb al-Islam is itself a coalition of Islamist groups that grew out of the earlier Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia-Asmara (ARS-Asmara). It is led by Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the former chairman of ARS-Asmara and a long-time rival of President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad (the former leader of ARS-Djibouti).

Beledweyne 2Beled Weyne

Arms are being distributed to members of the President’s Hawiye clan, many of them streaming into Mogadishu from areas outside of the capital. Hizb al-Islam and al-Shabaab have also been reinforced in Mogadishu by new fighters arriving from the provinces, including a column from the Shabaab-held port city of Kismayo (AllPuntland.com, June 17).

TFG MP Asha Ahmad Abdalla accused the president of hypocrisy for inviting the return of Ethiopian troops against whom he led a jihad only a short time ago, as well as for bringing warlords back into the government. “Sharif has led Somalia into carnage that is worse than the one committed by Ethiopian troops when they were in the country. He has revived warlords whom we know had caused suffering in the country” (Gobolada.com, June 18). The MP was undoubtedly referring to the appointment of former warlord Shaykh Yusuf Muhammad Siad “Indha Adde” as the new Somali State Minister of Defense. Following the appointment, the government is reported to have handed most of its arms over to Indha Adde (Waaga Cusub, June 18). As a member of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in December 2006, Indha Adde invited jihadis from all over the Muslim world to “continue their holy war in Somalia” (Shabelle Media Networks, December 23, 2006).

The TFG parliamentary speaker, Shaykh Adan Muhammad Nur, issued a request for foreign intervention on June 20; “We ask neighboring countries – including Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Yemen – to send troops to Somalia within 24 hours” (al-Jazeera, June 22). Ethiopian soldiers in central Somalia have told local residents they are looking for “foreign troops” threatening Somalia (Mareeg.com, June 22). Addis Ababa denies sending troops back into Ethiopia, saying it would need an international mandate to do so, but admitted earlier to carrying out “reconnaissance missions” inside Somalia (Reuters, June 12). There are reports that the 4,300 African Union (A.U.) peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi have become involved in the fighting as part of their mandate to protect strategic sites in Mogadishu (al-Jazeera, June 22).

The President blamed foreign terrorists for the Beled Weyne attack, an accusation that was backed up by Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke. “Somalis have no expertise to carry out this [kind of] attack; this was the work of foreigners” (AFP, June 18). Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad said al-Qaeda was behind the bombing and suggested Somalia was under attack from mercenaries and al-Qaeda terrorists from Iraq and Afghanistan (Shabelle Media Network, June 18; AllPuntland.com, June 18). Al-Shabaab maintains that the suicide bomber was a Somali man named Muhammad Deerow Shaykh Adam. TFG parliamentary speaker Shaykh Adan Muhammad Nur claims the Islamist opposition forces in Mogadishu are being led by a Pakistan al-Qaeda operative based in the capital’s Sanna neighborhood, but has provided no evidence to support this claim (al-Jazeera, June 22).

With the TFG on the verge of collapse, the President and his ministers are identifying foreign elements as the main threat to their regime in the hopes of rallying international support, but the real threat is coming from the President’s former comrades in Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, such as Hizb al-Islam leader Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys.


This article first appeared in the June 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

The Return of Ricin Fever – Discovery in Durham Raises New Fears

Andrew McGregor

June 18, 2009

Though it has never been used in a terrorist attack, the supposed usefulness of the deadly poison ricin in such operations continues to generate headlines and terrorism charges, the latest coming in Durham County, England.

Ricin Duham 1The Alleged Ricin Laboratory in Burnopfield

Dubious reports of ricin experiments conducted by Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq in 2002 were followed by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assertions to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 that an al-Qaeda laboratory in Georgia was creating ricin-based weapons under the direction of the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The uneducated Zarqawi was given credit for doing in a rude shed what a number of well-funded and sophisticated Western weapons laboratories were unable to do in years of effort – weaponize ricin.

Since the poison cannot be absorbed by the skin, it is necessary to have victims either ingest or inhale the ricin. Since only the latter would be practical for a weapon, numerous attempts were made by weapons laboratories in the 20th century to aerosolize ricin, all meeting with disappointing results. Once Sarin gas and other nerve agents became available, further research into the use of ricin as a weapon was abandoned (apparently except for a KGB lab that developed a complex means of surreptitiously injecting ricin into a victim’s bloodstream – used only once on Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London in 1978).

A 41-year-old lorry driver and his 18-year-old milkman son were arrested under the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000 after June 2 raids on their homes in the Durham County villages of Burnopfield and Annfield Plain (Independent, June 5). Tests in a government laboratory in Edinburgh revealed traces of ricin in a sealed, airtight jam jar kept in a kitchen cupboard. The material was sent for further tests at the Ministry of Defence establishment in Porton Down. Police assured the public that “no one is believed to have been exposed to the substance or be at risk of any potential ill-effects. We do not believe that there is any risk to public health” (Independent, June 5). According to Durham’s assistant chief constable, “This shows that the terrorist threat in the UK is real” (Times, June 6).

The London tabloid Daily Express reported that the traces of ricin in the jam jar were “intended for use as part of a biological weapon against blacks and Asians” (Daily Express, June 6). The tabloid failed to mention that no such weapon yet exists, nor did it suggest how the suspects, of limited means and education, were to develop such a weapon. Nevertheless, the “biological weapon” was being reported the next day in India under the headline, “UK poison plot against Asians, blacks, busted” (Times of India, June 7).

Britain’s Independent linked the poison to al-Qaeda without mentioning the fascination right-wing extremists have with ricin, surely more relevant in the case of two alleged white supremacists. To underscore the alleged threat, the newspaper stated ricin as the agent used in the March 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum cult that left 12 dead, when in fact the agent was Sarin gas (Independent, June 5).

Ricin Durham 2The 18-year-old suspect, Nicky Davison, was charged with possessing information useful to committing a terrorist act on June 9 and released on bail (BBC, June 9). The manual police described as containing information and instructions on the use or production of firearms, explosives and chemicals was a volume of The Poor Man’s James Bond, a four volume work by Kurt Saxon directed at American survivalists and militia members. First published in the 1970s, the volumes describe how to manufacture weapons, set booby traps, make explosives and develop poisons, including ricin. Davison has been charged with disseminating the work, though it is easily available from book-retailing websites and right-wing extremist sites alike (Northern Echo [Darlington], June 13).

Earlier this month a small pile of white powder found on a table near the ROTC office at Utah’s Salt Lake University caused a small panic due to fears it may have been ricin. Over 200 people were ordered out of the building while National Guard units and Hazmat crews tested for ricin. The powder was also tested for anthrax, radioactivity and various biological viruses, all coming up negative.  Early reports indicated the two teaspoons of powder looked similar to baby formula (KUTV.com [Salt Lake City], June 4; Salt Lake Tribune, June 4; Deseret News [Salt Lake City], June 13).

And in Washington State a man has been charged with trying to poison his wife with ricin after traces were found in her urine. The suspect explained to police he had bought the ricin to exterminate moles in the family yard (UPI, June 9). Though newspapers are often fond of noting ricin is 6,000 times more poisonous than cyanide, most internet recipes for homemade ricin from castor beans produce, at best, a highly diluted concentration of ricin that would need to be consumed in large amounts to create a fatal dose.

This article first appeared in the June 18, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Al-Qaeda Leader Abu Abdallah Ahmad Describes Struggle with the “Crusaders” for North Africa

Andrew McGregor                                                                              

June 18, 2009

Abu Abdallah Ahmad, head of the Political Committee of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has discussed the progress and setbacks of AQIM’s jihad in North Africa as well as the confrontation between the United States and the Barbary Corsairs in a 38-minute audio interview (Al-Fajr Media Center, May 4).

Barbary CorsairsAmerican Sailors Battle Barbary Corsairs, 1804

In reviewing the two years since the Algerian GSPC transformed into the pan-Maghrebi AQIM, Abu Abdallah lists the group’s most significant achievement as taking the battle out of a domestic context and placing it in a regional and international framework, the only suitable approach for confronting the “alliance of the War on Islam.” The idea of separating an internal enemy from an external enemy is “unfounded in Islam.”

Abu Abdallah also claims recruits from neighboring countries are now coming to Algeria, “the land of steadfastness and jihad.” Even AQIM’s Shura Council has been recomposed to accommodate the presence of “our immigrant brothers from the Islamic Maghreb.”

According to Abu Abdallah, the Algerian government forces news agencies to continue referring to AQIM as the “GSPC” (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat) in order to downplay the significance of the restructuring. The AQIM leader maintains that the group is in line with al-Qaeda’s policies and refers to allegations that AQIM does not enjoy Osama Bin Laden’s complete support as “mere falsehood and fabrication.”

In response to claims AQIM has no political, social or economic plan, Abu Abdallah replies that the suggestion Islam is insufficient as a means of governing a modern, scientific state dates back to the 1924 elimination of the Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and can be dealt with in three ways:

1) All the Western and Eastern theories (i.e. capitalism and communism) have already been tried in Algeria and proved to be a complete failure.

2) If their opponents believe that AQIM cannot develop an Islamic state and society, why do they not step aside and allow the Islamists to take power and thus display their alleged incompetence. If the people then break away from the Islamist project, “we come to an end with fewer losses and shorter time.”

3) The examples of the Afghan Taliban, the Islamic Courts of Somalia and the Islamic State of Iraq demonstrate the mujahideen’s ability to implement Shari’a with limited resources.

When asked about the impact of former GSPC leader Hassan Hattab’s public recantation of jihadi ideology, Abu Abdullah says this was something the group expected. “Simply, Hattab does not have any influence or respect in the mujahideen circles. On the contrary, the mujahideen has considered him for years a traitor who sold his eternity for his life. Many of the mujahideen have not heard or followed his so-called revisions; thus, these revisions made no difference to them.” Abu Abdallah denies that the commander of AQIM’s Al-Ansar Brigade, Abu Tamim (a.k.a. Ali Ben Touati), surrendered voluntarily to authorities as a result of Hattab’s appeal, claiming he was instead arrested while driving.

Abu Abdallah describes the situation in Sudan as part of a plan of the Crusader alliance to divide Muslim countries by using religious, ethnic and cultural minorities. He points to the examples of East Timor, Iraqi Kurdistan and South Sudan as proof of this plan, adding that the Crusaders are now attempting to take possession of Darfur to “steal its resources.” The AQIM leader suggests that the Sudanese begin preparations to fight the Crusaders and not rely on their “apostate government,” which is “no better than the regime and army of Saddam [Hussein].” Abu Abdallah’s comments here are revealing – in extreme takfiri fashion, he casts even the Islamist-military Sudanese government, which has imposed Shari’a at great political cost, into the role of “apostates to Islam.”

Abu Abdullah also refers to George Washington’s efforts to reach agreement with the Corsairs of the Barbary Coast (modern Maghreb) to prevent piracy against American ships in the Mediterranean and liberate nearly 120 American captives. At the time most European nations paid tribute to the pirates to allow commercial shipping to go on unhindered. The AQIM leader uses this historical reference to challenge the Muslims of the Maghreb to turn away from submission to the United States and the West:

Did not I tell you that George Washington requested your friendliness, sent gifts and asked for your permission for the movement of his commercial vessels in the Mediterranean Sea at the time that Europe was paying taxes to you under your military power in a humiliating way? O my nation, nowadays I see that you have become an easy prey to each treacherous infidel. In addition, your sea has become a harbor for their navies, your land has become bases for their armies, your capitals have become a fertile ground for their spies and a field for their experiments and your honor has become a cheap property for their homosexuals.

Elsewhere in North Africa, Abu Abdullah reminds the Muslims of the Maghreb of their failure to “liberate” Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish-controlled Moroccan ports that are the last vestige of Spain’s African Empire. Abu Abdallah also applauds the expulsion of the Israeli Embassy from Nouackchott in Mauritania, but warns of “the powers of the Jewish community in Morocco” and their influence over the King and the royal family.

This article first appeared in the June 18, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

President Obama’s Outreach to the Muslim World (I) – Afghan Taliban Attack Barack Obama’s “Arrogant” Cairo Speech

Andrew McGregor

June 12, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo was seen by many observers as an outreach to the Islamic world. Within that world, some welcomed his words, some wait to see if deeds of substance accompany those words, while others, such as the Afghan Taliban, described the President’s words as nothing more than “misleading slogans” that “failed to deliver a clear and true message to the Muslim world.” The speech failed to contain any “sign of practical change in the hostile policy of America towards Muslims” (Afghan Islamic Press, June 5).

Obama Egypt 2In a point-by-point deconstruction of the speech, the Afghan Taliban analyzed and condemned most of the material within the President’s address, which sought to lay a groundwork for repairing relations with the Islamic world:

• The Taliban described the president’s claims of tolerance and good-will as inconsistent with American actions, particularly those of its “occupation forces,” which are committing “mass murder” and imprisoning Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq in “the most hateful prisons of the world.” As a result of these “illegal” activities, “Obama’s baseless speech has no importance.”

• The statement objected to the President’s justification of the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a “legitimate struggle to secure U.S. interests… According to national and international laws, the occupation of independent countries and hostile war against their free nations cannot be called a legitimate war.”

• The Taliban accused the President of wanting to separate Muslims from “their real protectors,” the mujahideen.  The speech is described as an effort to divide the Muslim community. “Today, all vigilant Muslims are engaged in jihad in one way or the other. Therefore, the U.S. war against the mujahideen is considered a war against all Muslim nations and Islam.”

• Obama’s claim that America was not seeking a permanent military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is contradicted by the ongoing construction of military bases and airports in both countries, as well as the President’s stated intention of sending additional military forces to Afghanistan. “This large number of airports and countless number of military bases are established at a time when they do not need even half of them, given the number of their forces and daily military flights. This shows that Americans are intending to permanently remain in and occupy the region.”

• The President’s contention that U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan if peace is achieved “is quite funny… The presence of Americans is the main cause of violence and the current problems in the region. Jihad and resistance against American forces will continue as long as they are present in Afghanistan.”

• The Taliban also objected to the President’s use of the Jewish Holocaust to demand that Muslims avoid the “deeply wrong” practices of “threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews.” The Taliban statement claims President Obama “described Israel as the most innocent and worthy nation of the world” while summarizing the 70-years of Palestinian suffering in “a few misleading words.” While the President did contend that “the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security,” the Taliban condemned Obama for failing to speak about the blockade of Gaza and Israeli efforts to deny the passage of medicines and basic food items to Gazan residents. The President also ignored the fact that “mass murders are committed [in Palestine] at every moment.”

In its summary of the President’s address, the Taliban statement remarked that President Obama did not come with conciliatory intentions, but with an “arrogant notion” to give orders to the Muslim world.


This article first appeared in the June 12, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Are the Afghan Taliban Using Tajikistan’s Islamist Militants to Pressure Dushanbe on NATO Supply Routes?

Andrew McGregor

June 12, 2009

As Pakistan’s military continues to consolidate its control over the Malakand region of the North-West Frontier Province and talks of continuing on into South Waziristan, there is some apprehension in neighboring states that foreign fighters based in northwest Pakistan may begin leaving their now-endangered bases for home. Various reports claim foreign militants are on the move towards the Central Asian states in the aftermath of the Pakistan Army’s offensive against Islamist extremists in the Swat Valley (Jang [Rawalpindi], June 3; Millat [Dushanbe], May 21; Ozodagon [Dushanbe], May 21). A new military operation in eastern Tajikistan suggests the Central Asian nation is responding to the return of such extremists under the command of veteran Tajik jihadi leader Mullo Abdullo Rakhimov, though the Dushanbe-based government says it is only conducting routine anti-narcotics operations.

tajikistan 3Fighting during the Tajikistan Civil War (1992-97)

During Tajikistan’s 1992-1997 civil war, Mullo Abdullo was an important Islamist commander, operating as part of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), an awkward coalition of liberal democrats and Islamists. If Abdullo has returned, it would mark his first known presence in Tajikistan since September 2000, when a government offensive in the Darband region destroyed most of his group, with over 40 fighters captured. Mullo Abdullo himself was reported captured in this encounter. He is supposed to have been sent on to Dushanbe, but was apparently amnestied and released, taking advantage of his unexpected freedom to leave for Afghanistan whereby according to some accounts, Ahmad Shah Masoud made him a commander in the Northern Alliance. Other reports say he joined the Taliban and was captured by government forces in Kandahar province in 2002, after which little was heard of him (Asia Plus, May 23; RFE/RL, May 21). Tajikistan authorities were unable to confirm reports of Abdullo’s detention in Afghanistan (Interfax, May 22).

The Legacy of Tajikistan’s Civil War

Government troops are currently at work in the Rasht Valley, in the western part of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). The Garm district of the Rasht Valley has a long history as a center for Islamist militancy, dating back to its days as an important center for the anti-Soviet Bashmachi rebellion of the 1920’s. During the civil war the Garmis sided with the Islamists and suffered severe retribution for their efforts. The Rasht Valley was also the main operational base for Mullah Abdullo’s forces during the war.

The GBAO, located in the Pamir Mountains, occupies 45% of the territory of Tajikistan but has only 3% of the total population. GBAO was created by the Soviets in 1925 and joined the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic in 1929. During the civil war, the GBAO was a stronghold of Islamists affiliated with the UTO. Eastern Tajikistan is also the home of the Pamiri, an Isma’ili Shi’a people who were targeted for massacres after trying to separate from Tajikistan in 1991. The Pamiris were mostly supporters of the UTO.

Roughly 100,000 people were killed and over a million displaced in the 1992-1997 civil war, which pitted democratic reformers and Islamists against the Soviet elites of the northern Leninabad and central Kulyab regions who sought to continue their dominance of the Tajikistan government in the post-Soviet era. By 1993 the Garmi and Pamiri opposition forces were suffering from serious reverses on the battlefield and a violent campaign by government forces determined to drive Garmi and Pamiri civilians from Tajikistan. Both civilians and Islamist fighters took refuge across the border in Afghanistan, where the Islamist fighters received arms and assistance from ethnic Tajik Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance military forces. The fighters also received religious training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A Russian intervention in the civil war brought Afghan nationals north to fight the Russians around Dushanbe in 1996. When a negotiated settlement brought an end to the war in 1997, Mullo Abdullo was one of a number of Islamist commanders who refused to lay down arms, using bases in Afghanistan to mount cross-border attacks on Tajikistani security forces in the Rasht Valley. There are claims that Abdullo participated in raids on Kyrgyzstan in the late 1990s as a field commander in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). [1]

Operation Kuknor

According to government sources, Operation Kuknor (Operation Poppy) began in the Rasht Valley on May 15 and is expected to continue until November, an unusually long period when compared to previous anti-narcotics operations. Spokesmen say the operation is designed to interdict narcotics trafficking and eliminate poppy cultivation, but this explanation has raised eyebrows in the isolated valley, which has never been part of any known smuggling routes. Its climate is also generally considered unfavorable for the cultivation of poppies. The Tajikistan Interior Ministry expanded on the reasons behind the operation:

tajikistan 4“Due to favorable weather conditions large fields of opium poppy plants and other drugs of the opium group were observed in the Afghan (northeastern) province of Badakhshan… A wide-scale operation is being carried out in Tajikistan, including in the Rasht valley, as part of the Poppy 2009 operation in order to prevent drug smuggling cases from the neighboring country and to uncover cases of cultivation of drug plants. The Interior Ministry does not have information about armed people who allegedly entered Tajikistan’s territory (Asia Plus [Dushanbe], May 23).”

The operation includes units of the Interior Ministry, the Drug Control Agency, the State Committee on National Security and Customs units. The inclusion of members of the Interior Ministry’s Special Forces is considered unusual for an anti-narcotics operation (RFE/RL, May 21). Tajik Border Guards and Drug Control Agency officers were reported to have seized more than 80 kg of drugs in eastern Darvoz District (along the north-west border of the GBAO) in the opening days of the operation, but a Dushanbe daily reported rumors of fighting between government forces and militants in the same district, noting the government could not give “a clear explanation of the situation” in eastern Darvoz (Nigoh [Dushanbe], May 28; Tojikiston [Dushanbe], May 28).

The Return of Mullo Abdullo

Reports from Russia claimed that Abdullo crossed into eastern Tajikistan several weeks ago and has been canvassing elders in the Rasht Valley for support.  The original group of 100 fighters has allegedly grown to 300 (Kommersant, May 25).

A source in the Interior Ministry stated, “It is not known who is spreading such rumors, but we will get to the bottom of this. It is quiet and calm [in the Rasht Valley], no operations are being conducted there except for Kuknor-2009” (Interfax, May 22). At the same time it was denying cross-border incursions by militants, the Interior Ministry reported the discovery of a cache of weapons in a Dushanbe home, including a grenade launcher with 27 rounds, five assault rifles, two grenades and a large quantity of ammunition (Interfax, May 23, 2009).

Whether by design or coincidence, there have recently been a number of arrests of high-profile former associates of Mullo Abdullo on charges that appear to have been ignored for years. On May 17 the Tajik Interior Ministry announced the arrest of Muzzafar Nuriddinov and several other former Islamist UTO leaders. Nuriddinov was a well-known associate of Mullo Abdullo in the period 1994-1999 and the timing of his arrest led to increased speculation in Dushanbe over the real intent of the government’s operations in the GBAO (Asia Plus [Dushanbe], May 21). Among other “past crimes” dating back to the 1990s, Nuriddinov is wanted for murdering two policemen with a Kalashnikov rifle. Prior to his involvement with Mullo Abdullo, Nuriddinov was a member of a militant group under field commander Fathullo Tojiddinov, who later became a leader of the Interior Ministry’s rapid deployment unit before being charged with possession of six kilograms of raw opium in June 2007 (Asia Plus, March 18, 2008). Another former member of Abdullo’s command, Djumaboi Sanginov, was arrested on May 31 in Dushanbe for crimes allegedly committed as a member of the UTO in 1996 (Ferghan.ru, June 1).

Another Target for Operation Kuknor?

Other reports claim the operation in the Rasht Valley is directed at arresting former opposition warlord Mirzokhuja Ahmadov for his involvement in unspecified “past crimes.” An attempt last year to arrest Ahmadov resulted in the shooting death of Colonel Oleg Zakharchenko, chief of Tajikistan’s OMON police unit, by one of Ahmadov’s followers. Ahmadov was serving as head of the anti-organized crime unit in the Rasht Valley at the time, a post he received as part of integration efforts following the civil war. During the war, Ahmadov was a well-known UTO field commander.  Ahmadov claims Zakharchenko’s death was the result of his men thinking their headquarters was under attack by gunmen. He further claims to have received a verbal pardon from Tajikistan president Emomali Rahmon (Eurasianet.org, February 5, 2008; RFE/RL April 14, May 20).


The Taliban recently warned Tajikistan against providing a new supply route for U.S. and NATO military supplies on their way to Afghanistan (Daydzhest Press, May 28). Nevertheless, Tajikistan agreed to a deal to allow non-military supplies to pass through Tajikistan as part of a vast new northern supply route meant to provide an alternative to the turbulent Khyber Pass of northwest Pakistan (BBC, April 21). If Mullo Abdullo has passed from Pakistan through Afghanistan into eastern Tajikistan, it may be part of an effort by the Taliban to convince Dushanbe to rethink its cooperation with the Coalition.

Speaking at a meeting with EU ministers working on greater cooperation with Central Asian states, Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister, Hamrokhon Zarifi, confirmed the nation’s readiness to support international anti-terrorism operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. “Threats by Taliban insurgents do not frighten us and Tajikistan signed an agreement on giving a corridor for the land transit of U.S. non-military goods to Afghanistan” (ITAR-TASS, May 29). Nevertheless, with a recent and sudden outbreak of suicide bombings and other violence in neighboring Uzbekistan raising fears of a return of Islamist fighters to that region, Dushanbe may be making efforts to preempt the penetration of Islamist fighters from Pakistan in force. An anti-narcotics operation would provide useful cover for extensive ground sweeps and the systematic collection of intelligence necessary to prevent Islamist militants from establishing new bases inside Tajikistan’s Rasht Valley.


1. Muzaffar Olimov and Saodat Olimova, “Region early warning report: Political Islam in Tajikistan,” Forum on Early Warning and Early Response (FEWER), July 31, 2001.


This article first appeared in the June 12, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Changes to al-Shabaab Leadership as Militants Close in on Mogadishu

Andrew McGregor

June 4, 2009

Even as Somalia’s militant al-Shabaab movement closes in on the capital of Mogadishu in league with its allies in the Hizb al-Islam coalition, there are signs that a major shakeup in the Shabaab leadership is under way.

Raage 2Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (Feisal Omar/Reuters)

On May 21, Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage, who is also known as Shaykh Ali Dheere, replaced al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur” (Radio Simba, May 21; Shabelle Media Network, May 22). Abu Mansur has long been the public face of al-Shabaab as well as its most prominent field commander. His successor was previously the al-Shabaab chairman in Hiran region. Abu Mansur said at a press conference that he welcomed the move, though his new role in the movement was not outlined and little has been heard from him since the change was made. The transition appeared amicable, but no explanation was offered for the surprising move.

There have been unconfirmed reports of differences within al-Shabaab’s leadership, particularly over the movement’s continuing Salafist-inspired destruction of Somalia’s Sufi Muslim heritage, which has inspired a new Sufi-based movement, Ahlu Sunna Wa’l-Jama’a, to take up arms against al-Shabaab. However, a new round of destruction of Sufi shrines and tombs in the Bardhere district of Gedo region indicates that no change has occurred to this controversial policy.

Shaykh Fu’ad Abdullahi, the local al-Shabaab leader explained the demolition of tombs by al-Shabaab forces outside the port city of Kismayo in early May: “The destroyed gravesites were places where people worshipped and this is forbidden by Islam” (Garowe Online, May 6). The government’s implementation of Shari’a (Islamic law) in Somalia, a principal aim of al-Shabaab, may also have created divisions within the movement.

The replacement of Abu Mansur occurred just days after al-Shabaab’s official leader was seriously injured. The more reclusive Amir (Commander) of al-Shabaab, Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr” (a.k.a. Ahmad Abdi Aw Muhammad, a.k.a Shaykh Mukhtar “Abu Zubayr”), appears to have been killed or incapacitated by an accidental bomb-making explosion at a safe house outside Mogadishu on May 17.

Shaykh Abdi Godane was seriously wounded in what was variously described as a training exercise with explosives, a car bomb that detonated prematurely, or an incident involving a Pakistani suicide bomber who accidentally crossed the wrong wires while being fitted with his suicide vest (Garowe Online, May 18, May 20; Waagacusub.com, May 18). As many as 17 Shabaab members may have been killed in the blast, including a number of leaders present for a meeting with Abdi Godane and at least three Pakistani volunteers.

Only days before, the normally reticent Abdi Godane issued an 11-minute audiotape condemning the new government of Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, in which he states, “The so-called government cannot be described as an Islamic government, because it was created to destroy Islamists in Somalia” (Garowe Online, May 13). The Shaykh made clear al-Shabaab’s commitment to a global jihad, saying “We will fight and the wars will not end until Islamic Shari’a is implemented in all continents in the world and until Muslims liberate Jerusalem… The fighting in Mogadishu is between the forces of Allah and elements whose intention is to introduce democracy and Jewish theories, so we ask the population in the capital to choose the right path.” (AFP, May 13). Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane is believed to have organized several suicide bombings in Somalia and Somaliland.

This article first appeared in the June 4, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Taliban Commander Describes Offensive in Afghanistan’s Northern Provinces

Andrew McGregor

June 4, 2009

Ongoing Taliban military operations in northern Afghanistan were recently described by Khalid Haidari, the “official in charge of [Taliban] military affairs” in the province of Faryab, on the border with Turkmenistan (Voice of Jihad, May 17). The population of Faryab is largely Uzbek and Turkmen, with a sizeable Parsiwan minority (a Shi’a Tajik sub-group). Located far from the Pashtun-dominated regions of the south, where most Taliban operations take place, Faryab has been relatively peaceful since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Despite the lack of Pashtuns in Faryab, Haidari insists that the “mujahid people” of Faryab province have supported the Taliban both financially and with manpower. “The reality, contrary to what was in the past, is that the north is not a tranquil area for the internal and foreign enemies either.” Last year, the Taliban appointed Abdul Hamid Akhundzada as “governor” of Faryab province, but Akhundzada was soon killed in a raid by security forces after they received a tip-off regarding his location (Reuters, July 19, 2008).

FaryabHaidari denies the Coalition claims that the north has been cleared of mujahideen, explaining that this is a routine reaction by Coalition forces when they fail to expand the areas under their control. The Taliban leader claimed to have recently inflicted a “shameful defeat” on the enemy in “face to face fighting” that has left the Coalition in a defensive state, only able to venture out of the urban areas with an escort of dozens of tanks and aircraft.

Regarding the forthcoming Afghan elections, Haidari maintains they are nothing more than “a conspiracy by the Americans. We are seriously trying to prevent them… This is because elections in the presence of invaders are a great betrayal of Islam and the homeland.” He urged all Afghans to refrain from voting or from working in the elections.

Haidari dispensed with the coming American “surge” in Afghanistan by noting that the more troops the enemy deploys, the greater the opportunity for Taliban fighters to inflict casualties. “If our faith and belief is strong and we rely on God alone, the decrease or increase in the number of foreign soldiers or their equipment will not affect our activities.”

Faryab province is in the German-controlled sector of Afghanistan, known as Regional Command North. In response to a request from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) last year, German forces carried out a joint operation with the Afghan army designed to flush out Taliban fighters who infiltrated Faryab and neighboring Badghis province (Deutsche Welle, May 16, 2008). The German mandate calls for military operations in Afghanistan to be of a limited nature. Another 1,000 troops are on their way to join Germany’s ISAF force in northern Afghanistan, bringing the size of the force up to 4,500 troops. Four Taliban fighters were killed in an encounter with Afghan police in Faryab on May 12 (Reuters, May 12).

This article first appeared in the June 4, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor