The LWOT: Ayman al-Zawahiri appointed al-Qaeda leader

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-/AFP/Getty Images
-/AFP/Getty Images
-/AFP/Getty Images

Zawahiri named al-Qaeda leader

In a statement posted to the jihadist Ansar al-Mujahideen forum early June 16, the General Command of al-Qaeda named longtime Osama bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri as the group's leader, and promised to continue to fight against the West and Israel (CNN, BBC, Reuters, AFP, Bloomberg). Senior U.S. officials dismissed Zawahiri as a poor replacement for bin Laden, and vowed to capture or kill him (AFP, Reuters, Tel). Zawahiri faces a number of challenges as al-Qaeda's new leader, including his divisiveness within the jihadist community, ongoing attacks against al-Qaeda leaders, and threats to al-Qaeda's message posed by the Arab Spring uprisings (NYT, Times, WSJ, Telegraph, Guardian, LAT, BBC).  

The New York Times reported this week that Pakistan had arrested five "informants" who allegedly helped the CIA track bin Laden, while the AP revealed that Hassan Ghul, the former CIA detainee who supposedly provided key information on bin Laden's support network, has returned to al-Qaeda after being released several years ago by Pakistan (NYT, AP). For more on bin Laden, Zawahiri and other developments, sign up for the AfPak Channel Daily Brief (FP). 

Zawahiri named al-Qaeda leader

In a statement posted to the jihadist Ansar al-Mujahideen forum early June 16, the General Command of al-Qaeda named longtime Osama bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri as the group’s leader, and promised to continue to fight against the West and Israel (CNN, BBC, Reuters, AFP, Bloomberg). Senior U.S. officials dismissed Zawahiri as a poor replacement for bin Laden, and vowed to capture or kill him (AFP, Reuters, Tel). Zawahiri faces a number of challenges as al-Qaeda’s new leader, including his divisiveness within the jihadist community, ongoing attacks against al-Qaeda leaders, and threats to al-Qaeda’s message posed by the Arab Spring uprisings (NYT, Times, WSJ, Telegraph, Guardian, LAT, BBC).  

The New York Times reported this week that Pakistan had arrested five "informants" who allegedly helped the CIA track bin Laden, while the AP revealed that Hassan Ghul, the former CIA detainee who supposedly provided key information on bin Laden’s support network, has returned to al-Qaeda after being released several years ago by Pakistan (NYT, AP). For more on bin Laden, Zawahiri and other developments, sign up for the AfPak Channel Daily Brief (FP). 

A Somali soldier last Tuesday killed top al-Qaeda figure and alleged mastermind of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings Fazul Abdullah Mohammed at a checkpoint in Mogadishu (NYT, CNN, AP, LAT, Reuters, WSJ, NYT). Mohammed, who was considered by U.S officials to be the leading al-Qaeda operative in East Africa as well as a commander with the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, was reportedly carrying "very specific" plans to attack Western targets, as well as significant amounts of cash and weapons (Globe and Mail). The AP has an exclusive interview with the young soldier who shot Mohammed (AP). 

Finally this week, the CIA will reportedly begin drone strikes in Yemen in response to growing instability and militant violence in the country, and is said to be building a secret airbase in the Persian Gulf to facilitate these operations (WSJ, Post, Reuters, LAT, NYT, AP, VOA). According to unnamed sources, the CIA drones will operate alongside and in cooperation with drones controlled by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which has conducted strikes in Yemen in the past, though the CIA has looser legal limits on conducting covert operations (NYT, AP, Lawfare Blog, Lawfare Blog).    

Former Gitmo detainee named "global terrorist"

The State Department on June 16 named former Guantánamo Bay detainee and Saudi soldier Othman al-Ghamdi a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for his role in allegedly helping fund and support Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (Miami Herald, State, AP). Ghamdi appeared in an AQAP video last year, and referred to himself as an "operational commander."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) exchanged statements about civilian terrorism trials this week after McConnell said on the Senate floor that two Iraqi refugees arrested in Kentucky on terrorism charges after a sting operation should have been sent to Guantánamo, rather than indicted in civilian courts (NYT, Reuters, McClatchy, AFP). While Holder did not mention McConnell in his remarks Thursday night, he said that calls to cease civilian terrorism trials were "fear-mongering," and "detached from history — and from the facts" (NYT, WSJ, Reuters).   

The Department of Justice last Friday issued a guidance to the lawyers of Guantánamo detainees that allows the lawyers to view prisoner assessments and other documents leaked by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, but forbids them from saving or printing the documents (NYT, LegalTimes). The papers, though released publicly, remain technically classified, and lawyers for Guantánamo detainees are bound by government rules regarding the handling of classified materials.

The D.C. Circuit Court this week overturned the release of Yemeni Guantánamo detainee Hussain Salem Mohammad Almerfedi, whom the government accuses of having stayed in an "al-Qaeda guesthouse," prompting Lawfare Blog’s Benjamin Wittes to take a detailed look at the differences between training camps and guesthouses (AP, Lawfare Blog, Lawfare Blog). Also this week, an Egyptian detainee sent to Slovakia last year, Adel al-Gazzar, returned to Cairo only to be arrested on account of al-Gazzar’s conviction in absentia in an Egyptian court for allegedly trying to overthrow the state (Post, Miami Herald). And three Chinese Uighur detainees sent to Palau have filed petitions requesting that they be allowed to move to Australia with their families (The Australian). 

New York men plead not guilty to synagogue plot

Two Queens men, Algerian refugee Ahmed Ferhani and Moroccan-born U.S. citizen Mohamed Mamdouh, pleaded not guilty June 15 to charges that they allegedly plotted to purchase weapons and attack synagogues in New York (CNN, Reuters, AFP, AP, Courthouse News, Bloomberg). While the pair face 25 years in prison if convicted, the grand jury in the case reduced the charges against them, deciding based on the evidence that instead of seeking to attack a crowded synagogue, the men at worst sought to attack a synagogue when it was empty (NYT, WSJ). The case has received scrutiny due to the fact that the FBI refused to take part in the investigation, leaving the NYPD’s Inteligence Division to run a sting operation targeting Mamdouh and Ferhani, who defense lawyers say is mentally unstable (NYT).

Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King (R-NY) held a hearing into Muslim prison radicalization on June 16, though witnesses and committee members alike disagreed on the scale of the problem (LAT, Post, AFP, CNN, WSJ, AP). One witness, Purdue University sociologist Burt Useem, told the committee,"Prisons have not served as a major source of jihadist radicalization…if prisons were a major cause of jihadist radicalization, we would expect to see a lot of it, but we don’t" (CNN).

And the Washington Post this week has a must-read piece on the Muslim-American search for identity nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, the first part in a series on Muslim life in this country (Post).

Indonesian cleric convicted of terror funding

An Indonesian court on June 16 sentenced radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakir Bashir to 15 years in prison for funding a terrorist group in the province of Aceh (CNN, FT, National Journal, Bloomberg, AFP, SMH). Indonesia has suffered an increase in terrorist attacks and plots in recent months, and this week police arrested a suspect in the 2002 Bali bombings, and separately arrested 16 people allegedly plotting to target police with cyanide (AFP, TIME, AFP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Austrian police on June 15 arrested three men who allegedly sought to travel for militant training in Afghanistan or Pakistan, as well as a man police identified as a recruiter linked to the "German Taliban Mujahideen" (AFP, AP). 
  • Police in Britain this week charged a 25-year-old man with four terrorism-related offenses, while a man known only as BG lost his appeal to get a control order that forcibly relocated him to another part of the country lifted (BBC, AP, BBC).  
  • Police in Montana are still searching for a right-wing militia member, David Earl Burgert Jr., who is on the run in the state’s mountains after allegedly shooting two sheriff’s deputies June 14 (LAT, AP, Reuters).  
  • The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside of a police building in the city of Abuja that killed several people June 16 (BBC, Reuters).  
  • Authorities are on alert in the Philippines after intelligence reportedly indicated the threat of a bomb attack linked to the militant group Abu Sayyaf (AP).  
  • A Canadian-Sudanese man, Abousfian Abdelrazik, requested June 16 that the UN remove him from its terrorism sanctions list, which has frozen Abdelrazik’s assets and banned him from international travel (AFP). 
  • A Danish appeals court this week heard arguments from prosecutors seeking to increase the sentence of a Somali man who attacked cartoonist Kurt Westergaard last year with an axe in response to drawings Westergaard made of the Prophet Muhammad (AP).   

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