Podcast #4 – W(h)ither Al Qaeda?

Here is the script that accompanies episode #4 of the podcast “An Intelligent Look at Terrorism”: W(h)ither Al Qaeda?

There are a lot of good pieces on the status of Al Qaeda and here are links to a few of them:

Here is a piece on the assessment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on Ayman al Zawahiri:

The release of a video message from al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on February 5 is the latest in a series of events over the past several months that indicate al-Qaeda has increased coordination among its global affiliates and is still a preeminent global threat (Jihadology, February 5). The video itself is not out of the ordinary as Zawahiri commonly releases similar video and audio messages, but the release comes in the wake of several other notable developments, including the release of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (ODNI) annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. [1]

The ODNI assessment noted, “Al-Qa‘ida senior leaders are strengthening the network’s global command structure and continuing to encourage attacks against the West.”[2] The assessment also noted the strength of al-Qaeda groups in East and North Africa, the Sahel, and Yemen. The coordination between al-Qaeda affiliates and core al-Qaeda leaders was again made evident in late January.

“there are pretty good indications, including some of the material found in Abbottabad” that point to the Pakistani port city of Karachi… the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) is continuing to protect Zawahiri and has been since 2001. Pakistan has denied it is hiding Zawahiri.  There have been several unsuccessful assassination attempts made by the US on Zawahiri, as recently as 2016 when the Obama administration initiated a drone attack in Pakistan

Featured attack


In a statement released on January 31, Al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which operates in West Africa and the wider Sahel, claimed Tuesday’s suicide assault on a Malian military base in the northern town of Tarkint. A photo of the purported suicide bomber was also released.  In a statement released by the Malian military, it confirmed that two soldiers were indeed killed in the assault while a further 10 were wounded.

Check out a good piece on the Long War Web site on the attack:

Terrorism fortnight (January 29 to February 12, 2019)


Afghan security forces ‘busted’ a ‘gang of foreign terrorists’ in Niorz province on January 29, killing one and arresting three

Afghanistan announced on January 31 that coalition forces  had killed 20 Taliban and IS in Khursan terrorists over the previous 24-hour period.

The Taliban killed 10 Afghan police officers on February 3 in Baghlan province.

Afghan Special Forces conducted a raid in Khugyani district, Nangarhar province and killed two Taliban leaders. The lead weapons facilitator and recruiter for Nangarhar province were killed when they fired upon Afghan soldiers during an operation in the early-morning hours of February 7.

Eight people were sentenced to extended periods in prison after being found guilty of conspiring in the Intercontinental Hotel attack in Kabul in January last year, a source from the Attorney General’s Office confirmed on February 4The AGO source said the eight people had been found guilty of aiding in the attack and transporting explosives. The eight were not however named.  The source said that three of the guilty parties were sentenced to 20 years in prison and five to 22 years in prison.  

A group of insurgents stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Bagh-e-Bala area in Kabul city on 28 January last year which resulted in the death of at least 29 people. At the time however, one source said the death toll could have been as high as 43.  Fourteen foreign nationals were among the dead.  Over 100 hotel guests and staff were rescued during the 17 hour siege, including 41 foreign nationals.  

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said five attackers had been involved in the siege.

Afghan and coalition forces killed at least 30 Taliban and ISIS Khurasan (ISIS-K) militants during over February 9-10.

National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces confirmed on February 10 that they had arrested three members of Haqqani network in Kabul.  

According to the statement the three Haqqani members were arrested in connection with the truck bomb near Zanbaq Square in Kabul city in May 2017.  The suspects were from Maidan Wardak province and reportedly confessed to the bombing during an interrogation. According to the NDS, these three suspects organized the bombing. 

The NDS also said that the three suspects had been involved in a number of other attacks.  

The deadly May 2017 truck bomb was detonated at the entrance of the Green Zone close to Zanbaq Square in Kabul city: at least 85 people were killed in the incident and about 400 were wounded.

The Taliban rejected any involvement in the blast.


Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) detained four suspected members of the banned militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) in Dhaka on February 1.  A spokesperson stated that the detainees had been planning a “target and kill” mission against listed online activists and bloggers of the country.

“ABT has been involved in killings of several online activists and bloggers in the past. Now they are using chat groups on social media platforms to identify other online activists and bloggers. This time, they were planning to kill an editor of a national daily, which published a criticism of hadith (record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) on marriage,” the spokesperson added.  “After initial interrogation, it was found that they were trying, secretly, to revive the organization. Their main objective was to free the organization’s chief, Jasimuddin Rahmani, from jail. They even had plans to break Jasim out of jail, though an attack, if efforts to release him through legal means failed.”

Burkina Faso

Soldiers in Burkina Faso killed 146 jihadists in early February in response to a terrorist attack in which 14 civilians were killed


Four people died when gunmen raided a hospital and burnt it to the ground in western Cameroon where anglophone separatists have been fighting troops, witnesses and a local official said February 11.

The incident occurred in Kumba, a town which serves as the commercial hub for the Anglophone region and which has been badly hit by the violence between separatists and Cameroon troops that began in October 2017. “Attackers killed four people and burnt down the hospital,” said an administrative official in the Kumba region, confirming information from a witness.  It was not immediately clear whether the victims were shot or died in the fire, nor whether they were patients at the facility.


The Chadian military on February 9 said it had captured more than 250 rebels, including some top leaders, after an operation against an convoy of militants trying to cross into the country from Libya in late January that also involved French airstrikes.

In a statement issued by army staff the Chadian military said the sweep would continue in the region of Ennedi, in the northwest border with Libya and Sudan, near where the armed column of rebel vehicles was brought to a halt in early February.

The statement said some 250 “terrorists, including four main leaders” were detained, while more than 40 vehicles were destroyed and hundreds of weapons were seized.

An anti-Deby rebel group, the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR), claimed to have crossed into northern Chad with “three columns” of vehicles.


Egypt’s military said on February 2 that it had killed eight militants in airstrikes in the Western Desert as part of its campaign against the IS affiliate in the region. 


Up to 130 French jihadists detained in Syria by Kurdish-led forces could be allowed to return home, France said January 29 in a possible change of policy brought about by the planned withdrawal of US forces.

France is worried that French prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) could be released or escape after US President Donald Trump announced plans last month to pull American forces out of Syria.

“Given the development of the military situation in north-east Syria, the American decisions, and to ensure the security of the French, we are examining all options to avoid the escape and scattering of these potentially dangerous individuals,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

“If the forces who are guarding the French fighters took the decision to expel them to France they would be immediately placed in the hands of the law,” it added.

Making clear that the jihadists — many of whom enlisted with Islamic State — would face the full weight of the law, the ministry added: “These people 

voluntarily joined a terrorist organisation which is fighting in the Levant, carried out attacks in France and continues to threaten us.”


An Iraqi sentenced two men to life in jail for joining and collaborating with IS, the latest in a series of heavy verdicts against jihadists in the country.

One of the terrorists was found guilty of “joining the so-called Islamic police” while the other was providing the terrorist group with information on the presence of security forces, according to the Central Criminal Court, which issued the verdict.

Iraqi security forces killed one terrorist and arrested eight others in raids in Diyala province on January 29.

Iraqi authorities announced on January 29 that 9 IS terrorists were arrested during a security operation in Sulaymaniyah in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region

Six top aides to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were killed on January 29 in an airstrike that targeted their 4×4 cars in the Iraqi province of Anbar.

An armed attack on a bus in Iraq carrying Iranian Shi’ite pilgrims  injured at least eight passengers and the driver on February 3. 
The bus was traveling on February 3 from Samarra to Baghdad when it was targeted by unidentified gunmen about 50 kilometers north of Baghdad.  No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iraqi security forces killed on February 4 a “dangerous member” of IS during a security operation in Diyala.

Islamic State militants on February 8 killed three brothers after kidnapping them in the north of Salahuddin Province.  The three brothers had been abducted three days earlier while reportedly picking truffles on Makhoul Mountain, not far from the village of Mishak, from where the young men came.  The victims were reportedly shot dead.

Two Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside IED planted by unknown terrorists in Anbar province on February 10.

Iraqi militias late on February 11 killed a man they said was a suicide bomber planning to attack their units based in the disputed city of Khanaqin in Diyala Province.


A Jordanian court sentenced two brothers to death on February 10 in connection with a 2016 IS-claimed attack, overturning a life sentence handed to the men last year.  The shooting attack in Karak killed seven policemen and two Jordanian civilians as well as a female Canadian tourist, and wounded 34 other people.

The head of the kingdom’s state security court, a military tribunal, ordered Khalid al-Majali and Hamza al-Majali to be “hanged to death”.


Police on January 27 arrested 17 youths at a hideout in Samburu town whom they suspected to be al Shabaab recruits who were being prepared to be transported to Somalia.  The 17 were hiding in the holding centre, a two-room house near Samburu market and were comprised of 2 females and 15 males aged between 18-27 years.  A court in Kwale  allowed the Anti Terror Police unit to hold 17 suspected al Shabaab members for a week.

A Kenyan court acquitted one of five men arrested in early 2016 in conjunction with the 2015 Al Shabaab terrorist attack on Garissa University  in which 148 people were killed.  The remaining four will stand trial.

A New Zealander is one of 12 terror suspects arrested in Kenya in a security crackdown two weeks after an Al Shabaab attack in Nairobi.  Sulub Warfaa, 36, was arrested at Dajabula, a few kilometres south of the Kenya-Somalia border.  A Kenyan official stated that he was carrying two passports in two different names.


State Security Directorate in the South has arrested two Syrian nationals on terror charges, the State-run National News Agency reported on February 6.  One of the suspects, identified as Ahmed R., admitted to having contacts with Mohammed Khaled Taha, of the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham in Syria’s Idlib.  The second suspect has also admitted to having links to al-Nusra Front and to fighting alongside its ranks in 2012.  Police found that both suspects were illegally residing on Lebanese soil because their residence permits have expired.


Libyan authorities arrested a suspected al Qaeda leader who fled from the eastern city of Derna  on February 7.


The National Brigade of Judicial Police arrested an Iraqi national residing in Morocco on February 6 for alleged involvement in financing terrorists in the Syria and Iraq conflict zones.

Morocco’s security services arrested the suspect, identified as A.M., in Casablanca.  The suspect allegedly used couriers to send large sums of money from Morocco to jihadists.


Mozambican police said on January 29 they had arrested three Ugandans on suspicion of leading attacks in the country’s gas-rich Cabo Delgado province which has been rocked by an Islamist insurgency.

The suspects, two men and a woman, were picked up in a forested area on Friday, with police saying their arrest had enabled them to shut down several “training camps”.  “These are the leaders of the group of criminals who have carried out attacks in Cabo Delgado,” said Zacarias Nacute, police spokesperson for neighbouring Nampula province.

The arrests come as Mozambique struggles to cope with a wave of jihadist attacks that erupted in the north in late 2017, killing more than 100 civilians and scores of police, and threatening government plans to exploit newly-discovered oil and gas reserves.

The violence has also forced thousands out of their homes.

Police said the three suspects confessed to belonging an al-Shabaab cell in Uganda but had insisted they were only in Mozambique to find their leader, who had been arrested there at an earlier date.

Uganda later sought to extradite the suspects for trial in their own country.  One of the suspects was Abdul Rahman Faisal, who said he had nothing to do with the Cabo Delgado attacks, but claimed he belonged to “Al-Shabaab in Uganda” – in an apparent reference to the Somali Islamist militant group which has no known links to the ongoing insurgency in Mozambique.

Uganda has taken a hard line against suspected Islamist extremists since a series of deadly suicide bombings in 2010 targeted football fans watching the World Cup final in Kampala.

Suspected jihadists killed seven men and abducted four women in northern Mozambique in the latest violence to hit the Cabo Delgado region, local sources said February 8.

The bodies, which were cut into pieces, were left in Piqueue village, a local traditional leader told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Police arrested 26 people in northern Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw Township early February 4 morning on suspicion of having connections with the Arakan Army (AA).


Boko Haram terrorists killed six civilians in separate attacks in NE Nigeria on February 5, looting and burning houses as well.

On Feburary 11 the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff declared that the military will break the unholy alliance between the Boko Haram terrorists and Islamic State West Africa or ISWA.  He maintained that the army was making gains in the counter insurgency operations in the North East.


At least nine people, including eight police staff and a civilian, were killed and over 20 injured when gunmen stormed the office of the deputy inspector general (DIG) of police in Loralai on January 29.  The militants targetted a recruitment test for police clerks being held at the police office with heavy firing, followed by an explosion.  According to the army’s media wing, three “armed suicide bombers tried to enter the DIG police compound Loralai” when on duty police officials responded and fired at the three suicide bombers entering the gate. As a result, one of them detonated his suicide jacket at the entrance.


 A grenade attack on a mosque in the troubled southern Philippines killed two people early January 30, authorities said, just days after a deadly Catholic cathedral bombing and a vote backing Muslim self-rule.

“A grenade was lobbed inside a mosque killing two persons and wounding another four,” regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana told AFP of the attack in Zamboanga City.


Two people were killed and five injured by a car bomb that exploded in Mogadishu on January 29.  The explosion occurred near the Somali Ministry of Petroleum and Mining.

Al-Shabaab fighters launched an attack against an AU military base in central Somalia on January 29.  The AU base came under assault from different directions by armed militants who engaged in a heavy gun battle with the soldiers stationed there, according to the local residents.

In a statement on its affiliated media outlets, Al-Shabaab claimed it inflicted losses on the African Union troops, but, the number has not yet been verified

The U.S. military killed 24 militants in an air strike on January 30 in the vicinity of Shebeeley in central Somalia, according to a statement released on Thursday.

As noted in a previous podcast, AS is taking the fight to IS, this time in northeastern Somalia.     Intelligence and security officials say AS has seized two locations from pro-IS militants during the last week of January. One area is called El-Miraale, a water point that has been the focal point of clashes. The second village seized by al-Shabab is called Shebaab, south of the town of Qandala.

A car bomb exploded outside an Ethiopian military base in Gedo, 250 km west of Mogadishu,  on February 2, killing at least 10 and wounding many more.

A car bomb exploded outside a mall in Mogadishu on February 4 killing two and wounding four. The attack was likely carried out by Al Shabaab.   The death toll later rose to 11.

The Somali National Intelligence Service Agency (NISA) announced on February 4 that it had killed 40 Al Shabaab in operations in Lower Shabelle.

Two senior Somali military officers were killed in a landmine explosion in Mogadishu on February 5, an attack claimed by Al Shabaab.

For a sobering look at what ‘progress’, if any, is being made against AS, have a read of this “Is Somalia losing the fight against Al Shabaab?”

Following Shabaab’s assassination of two Somali generals south of Mogadishu in December, the group claimed to have killed two Somali colonels near the same town on February 6.   “Colonel Abdisalan Sheikh Aden Kurjow, an operations commander of the 12 April Brigade from the government’s militias, and Colonel ‘Adu and several of their guards were killed and their vehicle was destroyed by an IED planted by Shabaab,” the group’s statement said on its Shahada News Telegram channel.

The United States military stated on February 8 that targeted air strikes against suspected terrorists in Somalia killed 15.  A US Africa Command statement stated the air strikes occurred in the vicinity of Gandarshe, Lower Shabelle region, on February 6 and in the vicinity of Bariire in the same region on February 7.

The air strikes killed 11 and four people, respectively, after Somali troops engaged the terrorists. The statement says no civilians were harmed.


Spain police dismantled a jihadist group which was trying to radicalise prisoners to carry out attacks when they left jail on February 5Eight inmates were arrested, including five Moroccans imprisoned since 2013, a prison worker and two other people, the interior ministry said.   The eight had “proposed directly to other inmates to carry out attacks. In order to convince them, they promised them large sums of money,” the ministry said in a statement.  “They also said that they had a contact with Daesh (Islamic State) who would sent money to their families in compensation,” it added.


Five Tajik women have been sentenced to life in prison in Iraq after being found guilty of belonging to the extremist group Islamic State.


A Tunisian court sentenced seven militants to life in prison over IS-claimed attacks at a museum and on a beach in 2015 that killed 60 people, many of them British tourists, prosecutors said on February 9.

Dozens of defendants faced two separate trials over the closely linked shootings, which occurred just months apart in Tunis and Sousse, but many were acquitted.  Four were sentenced to life in prison for the shooting rampage at a Sousse tourist resort in June 2015, which killed 38 people, mostly British tourists.   Five other defendants in the Sousse case were handed jail terms ranging from six months to six years, while 17 were acquitted, prosecution spokesman Sofiene Sliti said.

Three were given life sentences for the earlier attack in March 2015 at the capital’s Bardo National Museum, in which two gunmen killed 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian security guard.  Others found guilty of links to the Bardo attack were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 16 years, and a dozen defendants were acquitted.


Turkish police detained 22 IS terrorists in Istanbul and other cities on February 4.

Twenty-seven suspects, including a senior member of IS have been handed down lengthy prison sentences for planning attacks on a convoy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP)  “justice march” in 2017.


A federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging an Ohio man with attempting to provide material support to ISIS, attempting to commit a hate crime, and possessing firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence stemming from his plan to attack in a synagogue in the Toledo area on January 29.

Damon M. Joseph, 21, also known as Abdullah Ali Yusuf, of Holland, Ohio, was arrested in December after he took possession of two semi-automatic rifles.

According to documents filed in court, Joseph drew the attention of law enforcement in 2018 by posting photographs of weapons and various messages in support of ISIS on his social media accounts, as well as a photograph originally distributed by the media wing of ISIS.  This activity led to multiple interactions between Joseph and undercover FBI agents.

A North Carolina man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to IS.  A jury in Akron, Ohio, convicted Erick Jamal Hendricks last year of attempting and conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

According to court documents and trial testimony, Hendricks tried to recruit people to train together and conduct terrorist attacks in the United States on behalf of IS.

On February 8 the US charged A New York man with attempting and conspiring to provide material support to Lashkar e-Tayyiba (“LeT”), a Pakistan-based designated foreign terrorist organization

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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