Defeating the “Forces of Paganism”: Former Military Intelligence Chief Hamid Gul Blends Pakistani Nationalism and Islamic Revolution

Andrew McGregor

January 28, 2011

The retired former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, is one of the most controversial political figures in Pakistan. Despite his once extremely close ties with the American Central Intelligence Agency during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Gul has since become one of Pakistan’s harshest critics of American foreign policy in South and Central Asia. Speaking at a recent Sufi ceremony in the northeastern Punjab town of Gujranwala, Gul, who was director of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, suggested that conflicts in Afghanistan have historically been a catalyst for massive change in South Asia and that “this change is knocking at our door… The forces of paganism have faced the worst defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq, but these forces are reluctant to accept their defeat. By 2012, these forces will be totally exhausted.” In Pakistan, however, Gul says what is needed is not a bloodbath, but rather a “soft Islamic revolution” (Nawa-i-Waqt, Rawalpindi, January 17).

Gul 1Hamid Gul and Taliban Friends

General Gul is certainly one of the most talkative former intelligence directors in the world, constantly seeking the spotlight through provocative remarks presented in a seemingly endless series of television and print interviews. While the United States has regularly claimed Gul is a supporter of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, Gul counters that his activities are strictly based on morality, Pakistani sovereignty and the struggle of Muslims to free themselves from foreign occupation and manipulation:

The Americans sent my name to the UN Security Council to put me on a sanctions list and declare me an international terrorist. But they failed because the Chinese knew the truth well and blocked that move. Basically, the Americans have nothing against me. I saw the charges and I replied to them in the English-language press in Pakistan. I said if they have anything against me to bring it forward, put me on trial. Tell me what wrong I have done. I have been taking moral stands. The Americans talk of freedom of speech, but apparently my speech hurts them because it counters their excesses… I do not support terror at all, but jihad is our right when a nation is oppressed. According to the United Nations Charter, national resistance for liberation is a right. We call this a jihad (al-Jazeera, February 17, 2010).

Pakistan’s Relations with the United States

In his capacity as Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) under General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and later ISI director under Benazir Bhutto, Gul worked closely with American intelligence agencies in coordinating and supplying the Afghan mujahideen’s struggle against Soviet occupation. This relationship began to suffer when Gul observed that American funding and interest in Afghanistan declined rapidly after the expulsion of the Soviets in 1989.  Sanctions related to Pakistan’s secret nuclear program further inflamed Gul, who tried to rally Muslim opposition to the U.S. led “War on Terrorism.” According to Gul: “The Muslim world must stand united to confront the U.S. in its so-called war against terror which is in reality a war against Muslims. Let us destroy America wherever its troops are trapped” (Daily Times [Lahore], August 30, 2003).

Gul continues to view the United States as the adversary of the Islamic world, telling a Rawalpindi daily that America will never be Pakistan’s friend – in fact, it is an even greater enemy than India (Nawa-i-Waqt [Rawalpindi], January 17). The former ISI chief claims U.S. military contractors (read Blackwater/XE) and CIA-directed drone attacks are actively working to destabilize Pakistan from within.

The former ISI chief continues to maintain the 9/11 attacks were part of an American plot to seize the resource-rich Muslim states, a plot that later instigated the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) siege in 2007 as a means of bringing the Muslim mujahideen and the Pakistan Army into confrontation (South Asian News Agency, January 19). He cites as proof of American intentions the fact that U.S. forces did not quickly withdraw from Afghanistan after dispersing al-Qaeda elements in late 2001 and claims the Obama administration is now working to replace U.S. government troops with American mercenaries as a means of deflecting negative public opinion: “This is a very dangerous trend if we are to believe that mercenaries can win wars and carry forward the political objectives of the country. This means that whoever has more money can employ more mercenaries, win wars, win territories, etc.” (al-Jazeera, February 18, 2010).

Gul was consistent in his response to recent news of the death of his long-time associate and former ISI Colonel (retd) Sultan Amir Tarar (a.k.a. Colonel Imam) while in the hands of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Colonel Imam was kidnapped in March 2010 while on a mysterious mission to North Waziristan along with two other men, one of whom was murdered last year. Though the Taliban’s demands for the release of prisoners in government prisons were never met, the group is claiming Colonel Imam died of heart failure. Gul insists that his former colleague did not suffer from heart problems, but was instead killed by Indian intelligence and agents of private military contractor Blackwater/XE under a U.S. contract (Express Tribune [Karachi], January 23; The News [Islamabad], January 27).

Wikileaks Controversy

General Gul’s name appears in 92,000 of the U.S. diplomatic cables leaked to Wikileaks, most often in connection to his alleged ties with the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda operatives. While the cables represent only raw, unanalyzed intelligence reports, the sheer volume of those mentioning Gul in connection with militant groups is nevertheless alarming. Included in the documents are reports of Gul obtaining arms and munitions for the Taliban, orchestrating the abduction of United Nations personnel in Afghanistan and bragging about his role in ordering suicide bombings, all of which remain unverified.

Gul’s response to the allegations contained in the cables was emphatic: “These documents are nonsense. They are ironic, wrong and stupid. I deny every single word in them… It is all rubbish.” For once, Gul did not blame the United States, saying the allegations were more likely the work of Afghan and Indian intelligence services (Der Spiegel, July 26, 2010).

Despite his alleged connections to Afghanistan’s Taliban, Gul sees a different motivation behind the activities of Pakistan’s own Taliban: “The Pakistani Taliban are being sponsored by the Indian intelligence and the Mossad, by the way, to carry out their attacks in Pakistan. Mossad is very active in Pakistan and they are providing all the guidance and technical support to the Indian intelligence. So, Pakistan has to have its back covered – no country can fight on two fronts.”  These remarks run contrary to the belief of Western governments that Pakistan’s ISI has close ties to the Pakistani Taliban.

Gul 2General Ahmed Shuga Pasha

Dueling Court Cases

This month a Brooklyn-based U.S. court summoned current ISI Director Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, his predecessor, Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj (current Adjutant-General of the Pakistan Army), and two other Pakistan Army officers in connection with a suit brought by two Israeli-Americans who lost relatives in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

The summons threatens to be another major blow to American-Pakistani relations, with the Islamabad government promising to resist all attempts to make serving officers of its military appear before an American court. Just in case the government’s will falters, Islamist political parties have been issuing threats of insurrection if the government fails to resist. According to Jamaat-ud-Dawah official Professor Hafiz Abdur Rehman Makki: “The Americans are the most foolish people in the world. They think that Pakistan is like an article in a cupboard and they will order it the way they like. It is due to our rulers only” (Nawa-i-Waqt, January 19). Many of the Islamists view the court case as a conspiracy engineered by Indian and Israeli intelligence agencies.

The case seems ready made for one of Gul’s appeals to Pakistani nationalism. The former ISI chief told an American periodical, “The United States [doesn’t] care about any international law or the sovereignty and dignity of any country. [The] United States of America is the violator of all the international rules and laws.” Gul further claimed the court might give a biased verdict that would slander Pakistan in the eyes of the international community (New American, January 24).

The case appears to have already had repercussions after the name of the CIA’s Islamabad station chief was leaked to a Pakistani journalist who has filed a murder case against CIA station chief Jonathan Banks, with other notices being served on CIA director Leon Panetta and U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates in relation to the death of journalist Karim Khan’s brother and son in a December 2009 drone attack in North Waziristan. Gul suggests the ISI may have leaked Banks’ name as revenge for the summons issued on its director, General Shuja Pasha, in the Brooklyn Mumbai trial (Newsweek Pakistan, January 10).

The Benazir Bhutto Assassination

Though Gul was frequently named as a suspect in Bhutto’s assassination, he was largely cleared of involvement by the Pakistan government in April 2010. It was Bhutto who replaced Gul as ISI director in 1987. The rift between Bhutto and Gul reached a critical point when Bhutto named Gul as one of four prominent Pakistanis she claimed were behind the October 18, 2007, bombing of her motorcade in Karachi, which killed 139 people and left hundreds injured.

Gul has frequently claimed Washington was behind Bhutto’s murder, but more recently has set his sights on former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf as a main suspect, saying Musharraf was responsible for Bhutto’s death and should be subject to investigation and questioning (The Nation [Islamabad], December 27, 2010; The News [Islamabad], January 5; Times of India, December 27, 2010).


It is difficult to assess Gul’s importance in the ongoing struggle for Pakistan’s future. There seems little doubt that Gul maintains extensive contacts within the shadowy and dangerous world of covert operations in South Asia. However, the seriousness of the Western allegations leveled at the former ISI chief seem incompatible with his accessibility to the press, leading some to dismiss his importance. Nevertheless, General Gul presents an attractive mix of Islamic revolution and Pakistani nationalism that finds a ready audience inside Pakistan. His claims that allegations of ties to terrorism are an American/Israeli/Indian conspiracy to deny him his role as a “credible critic” of Western intervention in the region likewise reverberate favorably with the Pakistani public. Gul’s importance stands primarily in the extent to which he represents a pro-Islamist, anti-American trend in Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, organizations which will ultimately have far more to do with the future direction of Pakistan than Taliban gunmen.

Nigerian Elite Force Accused of Murders in Plateau State

Andrew McGregor

January 28, 2011

Ongoing violence in Nigeria’s mixed Christian-Muslim Plateau State took a new turn when an elite force of Nigerian troops tasked with restoring order were accused of attacks on civilians in two Christian villages that killed eight, creating a new national scandal as the country approaches general elections in April. Over 100 people have been killed in the region surrounding the state capital of Jos since Christmas.

Hassan UmaruBrigadier Hassan Umaru

The government’s response to the violence was Operation Safe Haven, a campaign to be implemented by a Special Military Task Force (STF) drawing on members of the army, navy, air force and police.  The STF is led by Brigadier-General Hassan Umaru, whose wife is believed to have been killed by attackers last month (, December 7, 2010).

On the night of January 24 the villages of Hamman and Farin Lamba (both roughly 25 km from the state capital of Jos) were attacked by uniformed gunmen who assaulted villagers with machetes and firearms (Next [Lagos], January 25). The attackers in Farin Lamba were observed arriving and leaving in a Toyota Hilux van of the type used to transport police in the region, an observation later confirmed by Plateau State Police Commissioner Abdurrahman Akano. Many of the attackers appeared to be wearing body armor of the type worn by security forces. However, Commissioner Akano also suggested that the reported theft of 100 cattle belonging to Fulanis was the cause of what he termed “a reprisal attack,” though he provided no evidence of a connection between the two events (Next, January 25; Vanguard, January 25; Daily Trust, January 25).

The attackers at Farin Lambo first struck a vigilante squad of villagers, killing three before torching homes and barns. The vigilante group was created to repel assailants after the two villages were attacked four times in the previous two weeks (Next, January 25). The military complains that difficult terrain in the region hampers their response to incidents of violence outside the major towns, leaving such villages with little in the way of defense.

After word spread of the killings, women dressed in black attacked the camp of the largely Muslim-officered STF in Vom, shouting anti-STF slogans while throwing stones and setting fire to STF tents. Six women were reported to have been shot by the STF during the demonstration (Nigerian Tribune, January 25; Reuters, January 25).

STF commander Brigadier Umaru said he thought it unlikely that any of his troops would attack people whose safety was in their hands and asked locals to provide him with proof of such allegations (Vanguard, January 25). Some STF members were recently arrested for failing to stop killings in Jos, and the ID card of an STF member was found at the site of some of the killings (Vanguard, January 20).

Even before the latest incidents, Chief Solo Akuma, the senior advocate of Nigeria, called on military authorities to closely monitor the STF for partiality and to reassure locals of the neutrality of the STF when carrying out their duties (Vanguard, January 20).

On January 18, a Nigerian military spokesman warned that soldiers would fire on any community members seen attacking civilians or burning mosques, churches or residences (BBC, January 18).

The sectarian violence in Plateau State began in 1994 and has since claimed thousands of lives. Since 1994 there have been seven commissions of inquiry into the violence, though the results have either been concealed or largely ignored.  Though the conflict is often characterized as being a religious-based confrontation between the Muslim Fulani- Hausa and the Christian Berom, Afizere and Anaguta tribes, the dispute has more to do with competition for land and political power between indigenous Christian farmers and so-called “settlers” from the largely nomadic and Muslim communities of northern Nigeria (Next, January 23; Reuters, January 25).

There are also political differences, with the local Christian tribes generally supporting the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), while the nomadic Muslims are viewed as supporters of the opposition All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP).

This article first appeared in the January 28, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Former “Afghan Arab” Ali Al-Kurdi Says Jihad against South Yemen’s Separatists Is the First Priority

Andrew McGregor

January 20, 2011

A leading Yemeni jihadi and veteran of the post-Soviet struggle for power in Afghanistan has assumed the leadership of a possibly government-backed unity “committee” in the southern Yemeni port of Aden, where the Southern Mobility Movement (SMM) has been organizing a campaign to return the South to its former status as an independent state (Marib Press, January 3). In a recent interview, Ali al-Kurdi described the pro-unity plans of his new organization (al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 4).

Yemen MapAccording to al-Kurdi, an electrical engineer by trade, the Popular Committee for national unity that he chairs does not receive any state funds (“the committee does not have ten riyals”), but is supported by those who suffered from the economic consequences of socialist rule in southern Yemen’s People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY – 1970-1990). Al-Kurdi says socialist rule introduced “freedom of debauchery, alcohol drinking and the like” as well as enabling political persecution on the slightest of pretexts. The former mujahid is ambivalent about his relationship with the regime, on the one hand saying it would be an honor to collaborate with President Ali Abdullah Salih, while on the other recalling his numerous clashes with Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO) and a raid on his house that caused his sister to miscarry. He also recalls that it was the entry of Salih’s mixed force of tribesmen, former mujahidin and army regulars into Aden that prevented his execution by the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) in 1994.

Al-Kurdi has a long history as a mujahid, armed militant and suspected terrorist. After leaving the PDRY’s army in 1989, al-Kurdi says he left for Sana’a and moved on to Afghanistan after rejecting PDRY claims that he had been exposed to in the army that Afghani Muslims were fighting alongside the Soviets to drive out anti-Islamic mujahideen. Al-Kurdi claims to have carried out attacks in Khost, Jalalabad, Lugar and on the periphery of Kabul during his time in Afghanistan prior to his return to Aden in 1992.

Al-Kurdi was also charged but released as a suspect in the USS Cole bombing of 2000. He later complained of “dirty treatment” and beatings by “jailers and Shiite officials” (Yemen Times, February 26, 2006; Marib Press, January 2). Al-Kurdi was also charged with being a member of al-Qaeda in a 2006 trial of 19 alleged al-Qaeda operatives accused of plotting to assassinate Westerners and blow up a hotel used by American visitors to Yemen. The defendants were freed when the judge ruled Shari’a permitted jihad against the occupiers of Iraq (AP, July 9, 2006). Salih has deployed ex-mujahideen against the Southern separatists before, most notably in the 1994 civil war, when thousands of jihadis were recruited to fight Southerners in exchange for special consideration in post-war Yemen.

The ex-mujahid claims that AQAP has “no connection” to the core al-Qaeda organization, but was rather created by Sunnis who experienced persecution at the hands of (Zaidi) Shiites in PSO prisons. He denied any current relationship with al-Qaeda and downplayed its local significance as a militant group: “Al-Qaeda exists as an organization in all countries of the world, but I rule out [this group] undertaking any operations in Yemen” (Marib Press, January 2).

Though his committee may be poorly funded by his own account, al-Kurdi and his followers are prepared to “repulse” SMM loyalists who might opt for violent resistance to the regime, even through the use of “martyrdom-seeking attacks.” Al-Kurdi asserts that “Jihad for Yemen’s unity takes precedence over jihad in Afghanistan and Palestine. And jihad against the SMM takes precedence over jihad against Jews and Christians.”

Al-Kurdi sees the separatist troubles of southern Yemen as part of a larger effort to divide and rule the Islamic world: “There is a conspiracy to divide Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iraq. Iraq has already been divided and now it is Sudan’s turn. The [conspirators] will then move on to Saudi Arabia and Yemen… Mecca and Medina’s turn will follow because Yemen constitutes the bulwark of Saudi Arabia. Even the Turks who formerly ruled Yemen viewed Yemen as such.

There are indications that a major campaign of assassination of senior Yemeni military officials has begun inside Yemen, with numerous officers and soldiers being killed in Abyan, Shabwah, Hadramawt and elsewhere (al-Hayat, January 9). Al-Turki blamed the officers and soldiers themselves, though not without assigning some blame to the SMM:  “Frankly speaking, these officers and soldiers provide the justification for assassinations and lack of security, because some officers arrest people. When a person goes to prison, he is placed with al-Qaeda affiliated detainees. When such a person gets out of prison, he is angry and seeks revenge on the state. These are revenge acts by some citizens against security personnel. The SMM may be behind some attacks.”

This article first appeared in the January 20, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Sudanese Ansar Leader Sadiq al-Mahdi Rejects the Violence of the “al-Qaeda Mentality”

Andrew McGregor

January 20, 2011

Sudan’s leading opposition figure, Umma Party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, has been increasingly vocal in recent weeks as public dissatisfaction grows in North Sudan over the role of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and its leader, President Omar al-Bashir, in losing the oil-rich South Sudan in a referendum on secession.

Sadiq al-Mahdi

Sadiq al-Mahdi

In a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily, the former Prime Minister and hereditary leader of the Sufi “Ansar” (Helpers) of the western and central Sudan rejected the method of “direct individual violence” adopted by al-Qaeda. Sadiq gives three reasons used to justify extremist violence:

• The presence of foreign occupiers in Muslim lands.
• The presence of foreign usurpers, as in Palestine.
• The existence of social injustice (al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 9).

While Sadiq acknowledges that these problems must be dealt with even by “Islamic Centrists” such as himself, he rejects al-Qaeda’s approach while questioning the perception of al-Qaeda as an hierarchical organization with a central leadership:

“Many people believe that al-Qaeda is an organization; however, my opinion is that al-Qaeda is a mentality, and according to this mentality some people act in a decentralized way. It is not necessary that instructions come from al-Qaeda’s leadership. There is a mentality based on Islamic interpretative judgment, which in its turn is based on the implementation of these rulings, and anyone who does not agree to this is considered an infidel, whether he is a Muslim or non-Muslim; also [shedding] the infidel’s blood is allowed.”

Al-Mahdi has joined several other opposition leaders in giving the NCP government a January 26 deadline for the formation of a national unity government. The day was selected as the anniversary of the triumph of Sadiq’s great grandfather, Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, over Turco-Egyptian forces in Khartoum in 1885. The national unity government is required to negotiate relations with the new South Sudanese state and to resolve the Darfur issue and the arrest warrant of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on related war crimes charges: “The ICC issue has to be dealt with on a rational basis and not superficially by thinking that it can be ignored, and that it will be resolved and pass on its own.” The Sudanese President was succinct in his response: “Whoever wants to overthrow the government can lick his elbow….. There will not be a national government” (Sudan Tribune, December 28, 2010).

Sadiq also criticized the United States for its support of Southern independence while ignoring the development of democracy in the North:

I believe that there is a fundamental dysfunction in the United States. The foreign policy is drawn up by “lobbies,” and what these “lobbies” believe influences the policy of the U.S. Administration. “The lobbies” in existence today are interested in conducting the referendum and the birth of the South State without enough interest in what happens in the North State. This is despite the fact that any rational thinking considers it to be extremely necessary for the North State itself to be rational so that it does not contain any tendency to sabotage the South State.

The former prime minister went on to suggest that after the “failure of its policies” in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States wants to present the secession of the South as “an achievement of its foreign policy.” He fears that U.S. support for secession has taken little account of the need for the new state to exist in peace with North Sudan. “The United States ought to understand that the referendum cannot be allowed to be a cause for new wars,” Sadiq stated.

Looking at the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of Omar al-Bashir, Sadiq suggests that the party no longer speaks with one voice, with leading members advocating everything from wanting to get rid of the South to more effectively Islamize the rest of the nation, to those who declare the Muslim signatories of any peace treaty with the South to be infidels. “The NCP is close to becoming a ‘vehicle of convenience’ and not an institution; each passenger speaks in his own language.”

However, Sadiq says that he does not regard al-Bashir as an extremist, but notes that “he can become enthusiastic. It is extremely possible that there are groups that have exerted pressure in this direction [i.e. religious extremism], and he responded to them.”

Mubarak al-Fadl, Sadiq’s cousin and leader of the Umma Reform and Renewal Party (URRP), was even more direct in his criticism of the NCP, saying it now feared a popular uprising in the North after using most of its oil wealth for “security and political functions”; “The National Congress Party is just using religion to support the police state and step up the oppression of the population… Al-Bashir is a military man who swore an oath to preserve the territorial integrity of Sudan and now he has to let the South go away. He cannot swallow that” (Sudan Tribune, December 21, 2010). Al-Fadl’s opposition to the NCP began in 2004 after he was removed from his post as a presidential adviser. Though he has often clashed with his cousin Sadiq (much of Khartoum’s political elite is related through blood or marriage), al-Fadl announced the dissolution of the URRP on the last day of 2010, saying he would now integrate his party with that of Sadiq Umma.

This article first appeared in the January 20, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

New Law Sets Notorious Turkish Hezbollah Members Free

Andrew McGregor

January 13, 2011

Turkish Hezbollah 1Turkish Hezbollah Military Leader Haci Inan (Haberler)

At least 25 suspected terrorists in a notorious mass torture-murder investigation have been released by a Turkish court under the new terms of article 102 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which forbids detention for more than ten years without the conclusion of a trial. The release of the suspects from Turkish Hezbollah has pitted politicians and judges in a dispute over responsibility while an outraged public questions the state’s dedication to eliminating terrorist groups in Turkey. The men are among as many as 1,000 suspected criminals expected to be released under the new law (NTV, January 5; Hurriyet, January 6; Today’s Zaman, January 5). Many more terrorist suspects, including the killer of journalist Hrant Dink, could be released within the coming year. Other beneficiaries of the changes include members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK) and various left-wing organizations. Some of the suspects did not reach the streets after their release from custody, however; having failed to complete mandatory military service, they were taken straight to military recruiting offices.

Turkish Hezbollah 2Edip Gumus

The freed members of the ethnic Kurdish and Sunni Hezbollah movement (no connection to Lebanon’s Shi’a Hezbollah) include military leader Haci Inan, Istanbul leader Ilyas Kutulman and assassin Edip Gumus, who is accused of killing 42 people. The suspects were arrested in a January 2000 investigation that resulted in the death of Hezbollah leader Huseyin Velioglu and the discovery of dozens of bodies (many showing signs of torture and restraint) beneath a number of Hezbollah safe-houses. Many of the dead showed signs of having been buried alive. Searches discovered hundreds of videotapes recording the torture and execution of Kurdish PKK members and rival Islamists, many of them moderates (see Terrorism Monitor, January 25, 2008). Inan and Kutulman were charged with “attempting to overturn the constitutional order via force of arms,” based on Hezbollah’s avowed intention to replace the existing state with an Islamic government by force (Anatolia, January 4). The case is complicated by numerous allegations that Hezbollah operated as a covert arm of the state’s efforts to crush Kurdish separatism and Islamist challenges to the officially secular Turkish state (Hurriyet, January 7; BBC, January 23, 2000).

Many of the Hezbollah suspects were quickly given life sentences in local courts after their arrest, but once the cases arrived at the Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara they became bogged down in the sluggish and undermanned Turkish justice system (Hurriyet, January 7). Others received life sentences in December 2009.

Though the suspects are not allowed to travel and must report to police on a regular basis, there is no indication that the appeals court will arrive at a verdict any time soon. The ordinance has come under legal criticism in Turkey as still failing to meet EU standards as intended.

This article first appeared in the January 13, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Arabs and Tuareg Clash over Narcotics Smuggling in Northern Mali

Andrew McGregor

January 13, 2011

Emerging reports describe a major gun-battle between Bérabiche Arabs escorting a convoy of Moroccan cannabis through the Malian Sahel and a party of armed Tuareg nobles who appeared, in traditional fashion, to demand a fee for passing through their territory (El Watan [Algiers], January 4). The convoy of roughly 20 four-wheel drive vehicles was on its way through northeastern Mali, bound for Libya via Niger. An intense battle lasting several hours followed the convoy’s attempt to bypass the Tuareg gunmen, resulting in the death of five traffickers and two Tuareg, along with an unknown number of wounded.

Tuareg armedArmed Tuareg

Some factions of Mali’s Tuareg have been petitioning the government for permission to form government-sponsored anti-terrorist militias (See Terrorism Monitor Briefs, November 4, 2010). Implementation of this plan appears to have been postponed to avoid an “unpredictable reaction” from the al-Qaeda kidnappers of seven foreign hostages (including five Frenchmen) seized at the Areva uranium plant in northern Niger. The hostages are currently being held at AQIM strongholds in northwest Mali.

It has been suggested that al-Qaeda is involved in the flourishing narcotics smuggling in the Sahara/Sahel region, but other sources indicate that while there is an overlap in the use of smugglers and drivers that work in the narcotics trade, al-Qaeda makes ample money from its kidnappings and wishes to avoid the additional security complications that would follow a full-scale commitment to international narcotics trafficking (El Watan, January 3).

Drug cartels from Venezuela, Spain, Portugal and Colombia are reported to be active in the Malian capital of Bamako, where their violent competition often appears to elude the attention of local police (El Watan, January 3).  Malian police recently entered a Bamako cement warehouse to find a Venezuelan and a Portuguese trafficker using a chainsaw to cut up the body of a Colombian using a fake Ukrainian passport. The discovery was not part of an investigation and the Portuguese suspect has already escaped (Le Monde, January 3).

Malian authorities reported breaking up a trafficking network during a raid near the Mauritanian border on December 9, 2010. The network was allegedly composed of ex-fighters of the West Saharan Polisario Front, now confined to camps in southern Algeria (AFP, December 10, 2010). Tamensa, located near the meeting point of the Algerian, Nigerien and Malian borders, appears to be a hotspot of trafficking and smuggling activity (al-Hayat, January 1). In the cities of northern Mali, specifically Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, a mini-building boom has followed the influx of kidnapping and trafficking revenues and banks are reported to accept bags of cash without question (Le Monde, December 22, 2010).

There are indications, however, that a Tuareg vs. Arab paradigm may not reflect the reality of the violence in northern Mali. The introduction of democracy by the state has created something of a social revolution in the region. Since the April 2009 regional elections, the traditional leaders of the Arab community, the Arab-Berber Kounta, and the traditional leaders of the Tuareg, the Ifogha, have lost a great deal of their previous influence. The “noble” groups blame this on the alleged use of smuggling money by their respective vassal communities (the Telemsi and Bérabiche Arabs and the Imghad Tuareg) to buy victory in the elections, creating an inversion of the existing power structure in northern Mali. The growing dispute has erupted in ambushes of Arab-Imghad narcotics convoys crossing the region (U.S. Embassy Bamako cable, February 1, 2010, as published in the Guardian, December 14, 2010; Le Monde, December 22, 2010;, December 7, 2009; see also Terrorism Monitor, November 4, 2010).

This article first appeared in the January 13, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Unclaimed New Year’s Day Bombing in Abuja Rattles Nigeria’s Power Structure

Andrew McGregor

January 6, 2011

A New Year’s Eve bombing within the confines of a Nigerian military base in the capital city of Abuja has damaged Nigeria’s political stability, as various politicians and civil leaders seek to implicate each other as responsible for the unclaimed blast. The bombing, which killed four civilians (including a pregnant woman) and wounded 26, was the second terrorist attack in the nation’s capital since October.

MammyThe “Mammy Market” at the Mogadishu Cantonment, Abuja
(Sahara Reporters)

The attack targeted an open-air bar and restaurant at a so-called “Mammy Market,” a civilian-run market attached to Abuja’s “Mogadishu Cantonment” military base providing shopping and recreational opportunities. The explosion culminated a week of violence in Nigeria that began with a series of bombings on Christmas Eve in the Plateau State city of Jos, a common site for sectarian violence in recent years between the Muslim and Christian communities. Eighty people were killed in the Jos bombings and subsequent retaliatory attacks. This was followed by a bombing at a rally of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Yenogoa in Bayelsa State and murders and church burnings in Maiduguri in Borno State (Next [Lagos], January 4; Vanguard [Lagos], January 3; Daily Trust [Lagos], December 30, 2010).

On January 3 the government of President Goodluck Jonathan responded to the violence by holding an emergency closed-door meeting of the nation’s top security officials. Following the meeting, spokesmen announced a number of measures to be taken, including:

  • The appointment of a special presidential advisor on terrorism.
  • The installation of new closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in sensitive areas of Abuja, though existing CCTV installations proved of little use in the latest attack.
  • New regulations regarding access to public and private establishments.
  • The creation of a presidential committee on the control of explosives and incendiary materials
  • The creation of a presidential committee on public enlightenment regarding security measures.

A presidential spokesman indicated that police had been “directed to ensure the prompt arrest and prosecution of political thugs” (Next [Abuja], January 4). Jonathan’s government has invited American FBI agents and members of Israel’s MOSSAD intelligence organization to help investigate the Abuja bombing (Vanguard, January 3; Abuja Leadership, January 3).

The Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed responsibility for a pair of car bombings in the capital last October, issued a statement through spokesman Jomo Gbomo denying any involvement in the attack at the Mogadishu Cantonment: “Bombings and attacks carried out by MEND are always preceded by a warning in order to prevent casualties and followed by a statement of claim… [MEND] condemns the deliberate targeting of civilians by any persons or groups for what so ever reasons” (AFP, January 2; Vanguard, January 2).

PDP primaries next week will be followed by what is expected to be hotly contested presidential, gubernatorial and parliamentary elections in April. With the political direction of the country in the balance, few seem able to resist the temptation to link political opponents to the ongoing violence.

The campaign organization of Jonathan’s main challenger for the PDP presidential nomination for upcoming elections in April, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, denounced what it described as efforts by the president’s paid agents to link Abubakar with the Abuja bombing: “In a moment of national crisis, President Goodluck Jonathan must demonstrate sobriety and cool-headed posture rather than losing his head to impetuous emotions… The President should allow security services to carry out intensive investigations instead of using the incident to frame up political opponents whom he perceives as stumbling blocks to his ambition” (Next, January 4).

Former military ruler of Nigeria General Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993) has also complained of government attempts to tie him to the Abuja bombing, describing it as “sheer blackmail”: “It exposes the weakness in the system if private persons and former leaders who are enjoying their retirement are being linked to acts of terrorism or bombings. We all should agree that there is failure in governance rather than passing the buck, or finding very idiotic and flimsy reasons to label some distinguished persons as being responsible for such failures” (Vanguard, January 3; Daily Sun [Lagos], January 3). Various NGOs, as well as religious and labor leaders have alleged that the Abuja bombing is part of an attempt to create a state of emergency leading to the military’s return to power (Nigerian Compass [Lagos], January 4; Daily Trust, January 3).

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Muhammadu Abubakar, made an unfavorable comparison between the current state of security and that which existed under military rule. “We should blame the political class for getting us to this stage because it was not like this before,” Abubakar claimed (Daily Trust, December 30, 2010).

Nigeria’s intelligence services have come under strong public criticism for repeated failures to anticipate eruptions of sectarian violence in northern and central Nigeria. Army Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirike acknowledged the failure, saying there is a need to “enhance intelligence operations” (Daily Trust, December 30, 2010). Meanwhile, Defense Minister Prince Adetokunbo Kayode promised the investigation would continue, saying, “The perpetrators are here, they are not from the moon and we will get them” (Vanguard, January 2).


This article first appeared in the January 6, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Mysterious Murder of Lebanese Islamist Militant Ghandi al-Sahmarani

Andrew McGregor

January 6, 2011

The late-December murder of Lebanese Islamist and Jund al-Sham commander Ghandi Sahmarani (a.k.a. Abu Ramiz) was an instructive example of the changing balance of power in Lebanon’s Ayn al-Hilweh refugee camp, which exploded in Islamist-inspired violence in 2007.

GhandiFormer Jund al-Sham Commander Ghandi Sahmarani

While political assassinations are far from unknown in the Palestinian camps, Sahmarani’s death followed a different pattern from the usual shootings and bombings. Though exact details remain unclear, it appears that Sahmarani was brutally tortured for as long as 48 hours before his ultimate death by hanging or a gunshot to the mouth (Now Lebanon, January 3). There was no claim of responsibility for the killing. Sahmarani, a native of Tripoli, was closely tied to the Ayn al-Hilweh camp for over 20 years. Following the discovery of his body the Lebanese Army moved additional forces to the entrance of the camp, but the anticipated unrest never materialized (Naharnet, December 27, 2010; December 28, 2010).

Established in 2004, Jund al-Sham (“The Army of Greater Syria”) is a splinter group of the larger Usbat al-Ansar (“League of Partisans”), an armed Salafist movement formed in the 1980s. Unlike a number of other Salafist groups operating in the Palestinian refugee camps, both Usbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham include native Lebanese members, like Sahmarani, as well as Palestinians in their ranks (Naharnet, May 31, 2008). The small group of roughly 50 Jund al-Sham militants joined the Fatah al-Islam movement in the bitter fighting against the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) that erupted in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in 2007 and later spread to Ayn al-Hilweh.

Sources within the camp say the brutal killing was not politically motivated, but rather came in response to allegations that Sahmarani had raped a number of married and unmarried women within the site (Now Lebanon, January 3). One Islamist leader who declined to be named told a Beirut daily that Sahmarani was killed “for moral reasons” after raping a married woman and videotaping her naked (Daily Star [Beirut], December 29, 2010). Lebanese radio reported that the killers had been identified and were part of Sahmarani’s “inner circle” (Voice of Lebanon Radio, December 27, 2010).

Jund al-Sham has had frequent clashes with the secular Palestinian Fatah movement led by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazin) (al-Hayat, March 24, 2008). Fatah security official Mahmud Abd al-Hamid Isa “al-Lino” in particular has been in the forefront of efforts to rein in Jund al-Sham extremists, who have frequently endangered relations between the Palestinians and Lebanese authorities. Al-Lino is a senior commander in Fatah’s Palestinian Armed Struggle (PAS), which serves as a civil police force in the Palestinian camps. The camps are administered by Palestinian authorities rather than the Lebanese government under the terms of a treaty. Recently the Islamist factions have been cooperating with the PAS to restore order and security to the Palestinian camps, leaving little room for extremists like Sahmarani. Even other armed Islamist groups such as Usbat al-Ansar have participated in campaigns to disarm and dismantle the Jund al-Sham organization. Under pressure from all sides, many Jund al-Sham militants have fled to Europe, joined the jihad in Iraq, or returned to the ranks of Usbat al-Ansar.

Fatah’s al-Lino issued a prompt denial of Fatah involvement in the killing of Sahmarani, describing it as “an incident shrouded in mystery” (Daily Star [Beirut], December 29, 2010).  Though an Ayn al-Hilweh shop owned by a PAS major was bombed shortly after the discovery of Sahmarani’s body, authorities were reluctant to make any connection between the two events. Authorities are likely correct in this; considering the circumstances and method of Sahmarani’s murder, his near complete isolation, the general desire, even among Islamists, for security and the unsupportable nature of the allegations against Sahmarani, retaliation for his death would definitely be inadvisable for his few remaining supporters. His followers (if any indeed still exist) might be more likely to seek the services of human smugglers to emigrate to Europe, a path frequently taken by other Ayn al-Hilweh militants who have found themselves under pressure in the close confines of the camp. The new but largely powerless Jund al-Sham leadership will be under close scrutiny from Palestinian security forces, Lebanese intelligence and even their fellow Islamists in Ayn al-Hilweh.

This article first appeared in the January 6, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor