6 January – A top figure from within ISIS police forces has been has been found decapitated in Syria. The man was an Egyptian national, believed to be the deputy “emir” of the al-Hesbah force in a Syrian province. His body was found near a power plant in Deir-al-Zor province, where heavy fighting has taken place in the last month. Reports indicated that his body showed signs of torture; the head was allegedly found with a cigarette left in its mouth, while the sentence “O Sheikh this is munkar (hateful and evil thing)” was written on his body. It is believed that ISIS has banned residents in areas under its control from drinking or smoking. Shop owners found guilty of selling cigarettes in some of its strongholds have been publicly flogged. It is unknown whether the man was killed by ISIS, local residents, or foreign fighters.
The alleged beheading comes after ISIS released gruesome photos purporting to show the brutal execution of Iraqi police and men it accused of informing on the group. A video entitled ‘Day of Retribution’ showed eight captives wearing microphones before being shot dead by 12 militants. The officers were accused of spying on ISIS on behalf of the Iraqi military, and identifying targets for US led coalition strikes on ISIS targets. In the video the men are seen in kneeling on the ground wearing orange uniforms, similar to those worn by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
The officers are shown blindfolded and handcuffed as ISIS fighters march them along the edge of a river. The men were forced to kneel on the shore underneath a bridge and executed with a bullet to the back of the head.
31 December – A suicide bomber killed over 30 people when he detonated himself at a cultural centre where students were celebrating the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday. At least 48 people were also injured, including many women and children and women. Medics and residents put Wednesday’s death toll at 33, saying that 20 bodies were transferred to al-Thawra hospital and 13 others were taken to another hospital. A local resident says that the death toll is likely to rise. The director general of the Ibb governorate where the blast occurred was among the dead. The governor, who was reported to have been wounded, has escaped unharmed. A second explosion was later reported outside al-Thawra Hospital. Authorities later said that security forces had been firing in the air to disperse residents who had gathered in front of the hospital.
No one claimed responsibility for attack, but it is similar in fashion to those conducted by terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has a heavy presence in Yemen. AQAP regards Shi’ites, the sect of Islam to which the Houthis belong, as heretics. The celebration, in the city of Ibb, was organized by the Houthis, the group that controls most of Yemen.
In a message of condolences to the victims’ families, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi condemned “the terrorist and criminal” attack and instructed the government to ensure the wounded receive full medical attention.
Yesterday, unidentified gunmen killed army officer in south Yemen Tuesday, in the latest attack on military personnel. Captain Shaeq Mohammed Shaeq was shot with an assault rifle by gunmen on a motorcycle in Aden’s al-Qahera neighbourhood. Again, there has been no claim of responsibility for the attack; however it is consistent with a series of AQAP attacks on military personnel in recent weeks.
On Monday, two soldiers were killed and 11 wounded in a failed attempt to assassinate the commander of the First Military Region, General Abdul Rahman al-Hulaili, in southeastern Hadramawt province. AQAP claimed the attack, in which assailants detonated explosives planted on the roadside and opened fire as the general’s convoy passed.
In a separate attack on Monday in central Baida city, two gunmen on a motorbike shot dead intelligence officer Nasser al-Wahishi. On Sunday, a similar bombing targeted the commander of the 31st Armored Battalion, General Farej al-Atiqi, in the southern city of Aden. Atiqi escaped the bomb blast unscathed, but his driver was killed and two other bodyguards were wounded. A device that had been hidden in his car was detonated by remote control, army officials said.
Tensions have increased in Yemen since the Houthis captured the capital, Sana’a, in September. They have since expanded south and west of the capital. Yemen has been battling al Qaeda strongholds in the region while trying to cope with the Houthi advances. Further, the nation must protect its borders with the world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, and protect access to key shipping routes from the Suez Canal to the Gulf. Concerns have arisen that the nation could become a failed state as it struggles to recover following the ousting of veteran autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh in February 2012.
During the unrest, the military split between forces loyal to President Saleh and those backing General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, an Islamist-leaning general who had backed the uprising and went on to become a military adviser to current president Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Corruption, internal splits and competing loyalties in the army began before Saleh’s removal, and are now reaching a critical stage. The rift has weakened the army and contributed to the ease of Houthi acceleration in their mission to “drive out corruption”, and rise of AQAP militants. The current government must also contend with southern separatists who have been calling for a weekly civil disobedience day every Monday to demand independence.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s latest publication of Inspire Magazine has been dedicated to urging lone wolf attacks and attacks on commercial passenger jets. The cover story, entitled “Destination airport, and Guess What’s on the Menu?” teaches about how to bomb passenger planes. The digital magazine was released on 24 December, the 5th anniversary of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s Christmas Day 2009 bombing attempt on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it was on its landing approach to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
A great deal of space is given to providing detailed instructions on how to build a new bomb AQAP purports can be “hidden” not only on aircraft, but also to blow up other targets with the intent of causing ripples throughout US and Western economies. The magazine lists a series of targets including the following airlines: American, United, Continental and Delta, British Airways, EasyJet, Air France and Air France KLM. The group also seeks “direct economic targets” and high-profile “economic personalities” like former US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and “wealthy entrepreneurs or company owners” like Bill Gates. Of note, the magazine refers to Bernanke as the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, however he stepped down in February.
Issue 13 of Inspire is entitled “Neurotmesis: Cutting the Nerves and Isolating the Head.” The issue also focuses on instigating Muslims to carry out lone wolf attacks against the US, as is specifically stated in the letter by Yahya Ibrahim, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, who says, “Hereby, Inspire magazine is committed to arm Muslim individuals — as well as Muslim groups as is in this issue — in their Jihad on America.” He continues:
“Previously we have presented Muslims with different weapons, including bombs and tactics … Now we are obliged to give our ummah something special. Something unique that can easily be prepared at home — that is the reason we have taken a long period to produce this issue. Here, we give the Muslim ummah a bomb recipe that America fears it might reach the hands of other Mujahideen in other fronts. However, what America didn’t expect is that this recipe is going to be in the reach of all Muslims around the world,” Ibrahim said, noting, “It will circulate in the social media and Muslims will translate it into different languages. Some will be pleased and pass on the message; while others will be inspired and most importantly make the bomb.”
Another piece, “Open Source Jihad”, was written by “AQ-Chef,” who is believed to be Ibrahim Hassan Tali Al Asiri, AQAP’s premier bomb maker. The US Department of State issued a $5 million bounty for on him October 14, 2014. The article details ways to breach airport security, and provides a 37-page set of instructions on how to build “The Hidden Bomb.” The piece also provides various “field tactics” related to selecting targets and executing attacks. A section was dedicated to individuals who had previously attempted to blow up airplanes, including Ramzi Yusuf, Abdulmutallab and Richard Reid (the shoe bomber).
The author writes of failed attempts, stating, “Initially, what we faced as a main problem was: How can a lone Mujahid acquire the required explosive materials. For several months, we conducted a number of experiments. As a result we came up with these simple materials that are readily available around the globe, even inside America – and this is our goal. We spared no effort in simplifying the idea in such we made it ‘another meal prepared in the kitchen’ so that every determined Muslim can prepare.”
The magazine claims that the bomb “is 2.5x as powerful as ‘Umar Farouq’s bomb, and 3x as powerful as the military-grade F1Russian grenade.” AQ-Chef then provides “Field Tactics” for using the bomb to destroy a jetliner: “I assume you have now prepared your hidden bomb after you have been convinced by the importance of this operation both politically and militarily. What is left is identifying the target that will achieve the greatest success […] We have sketched the targets as a part of a complete program we have presented to the Lone Mujahid.” Suggestions include writing a public message prior to the “Martyrdom Operation” via email, and timing its delivery for after the operation.
AQ Chef says in an interview section of the magazine, “Unlike a lab, a kitchen is found in every house. Moreover, if a Mujahid can prepare a bomb from materials used in the kitchen instead of lab materials and use cooking utensils instead of lab apparatus, then we have a double success and we have overcome the security hurdle. Therefore, a larger number of Mujahideen can carry out Jihādi operations. You will notice in this issue specifically we have focused on the kitchen. Generally, we are trying as much as possible to move the lone Mujahid from the lab to the pharmacy and from the pharmacy to the kitchen.”
He adds that airport security imaging could detect the bomb but these devices are not available at all airports. Further, the bombs are not intended for use only in airports, but “they are also used in assassinations as the brothers clarified in their program (Neurotmesis).” He finishes menacingly, “Hereby, I call the National Transportation Safety Board, ‘Do not weary yourself of investigation, the US Department of Homeland Security will take over the job because of a simple reason: This jihadi work belongs to the ‘Global Lone Jihad Movement.’”
largely as reported by PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff last week
The US Congress has adjourned without reauthorizing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act beyond its sunset on Dec. 31, 2014, and the absence of the program could have far reaching effects on businesses across the United States. In an interview with PBS NewsHour, American Insurance Association (AIA) President and CEO Leigh Ann Pusey warned, “It’s very hard to conceive of the kinds of losses that can be associated with a terrorist attack. They’re well beyond the capacity of the insurance market right now to provide that.” She says as the program stands currently, many insurers would have to cover between $1 billion and $2 billion in losses before the government backstop would kick in, “and they’re paying a percentage of that backstop even after they have met the deductible.” She says that the program enables the market to charge premiums in exchange for covering the risks of terrorism, which otherwise would be covered by the US taxpayer, “and the more we get can comfortable with this risk over time, the more we can learn about it, we can take on more of it. It will never be a risk that can be totally borne by the private market. And it shouldn’t be… because … it’s national security.” Pusey says that because TRIA was not renewed, insurers will have to review their risks and capacity is likely to shrink over time, prices in certain markets are likely to rise, and some projects could be delayed if developers cannot obtain the required coverage.
9 December- A double suicide bombing occurred at the First Military Command base in Seyoun, Yemen. Seyoun is the capital city of Yemen’s Hadramout province. Sources indicated that the two attackers attempted to get into the base to detonate vehicle borne IEDs. Soldiers attempted to prevent the vehicles from entering, however one car bomb exploded at the bases gate. The other vehicle detonated inside the compound. Four people were killed and eight were wounded.
The first vehicle was driven Humam al Qarqa al Awlaki, who detonated a Suzuki Vitara filled with half a ton of explosives at the base’s gate around 8:40 a.m. About two minutes later, Nasser bin Ganam al Si’ri detonated a Toyota Hilux carrying 1.25 tons of explosives inside the command headquarters.
A Twitter account affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released a tweet claiming responsibility for the bombings. The tweet also suggested that “tens” of soldiers had been killed and a number of military vehicles were disabled. The group said that their fighters had been monitoring the base; 30 minutes prior to the attacks, a military convoy including high-ranking officials had entered the base.
AQAP released a statement on 9 December which also took credit for the attack of a military truck in al Shihr, about 150 miles south of Seyoun. The attack killed two soldiers and wounded one. AQAP says that soldiers at barracks near the attack fired “randomly” for over an hour after the attack. The group accused the military of damaging a mosque and several “houses of Muslims in the area.” A day earlier, AQAP conducted several bombings in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a targeting the homes of Shiite Houthi leaders. The group conducted three bombings, killing fifteen and wounding 35 Houthis.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for 25 terrorist attacks in Yemen since 1 December, targeting Houthi and military people and facilities. Of the 25, eight attacks, or about 30% were aimed at Yemeni military stationed in the south and east. The remaining 70% have been directed at Houthi leaders or military positions, mainly in Sana’a.
Shiite Houthi fighters have gained traction in their battles against AQAP in recent months. Houthi leaders have captured towns in the South and east that were under the control of AQAP. On 18 November, Houthi fighters pushed AQAP militants out of the south-western strategic town of Rada’a. The town had been under the control of al-Qaeda militants since early 2012. Houthi fighters are now in full control of the strategic town; the group has expressed their preparedness to withdraw from the town when the Yemeni army is able to restore peace and security.
Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has stressed the need for cooperation with the Houthis to restore security to the country. Yemen’s central government has so far failed to confront the terrorist threat. Houthi fighters, however, have intervened to fill the vacuum and driven al-Qaeda militants out of many areas in the country.
In response to the loss strongholds to Shi’ite Houthi fighters, AQAP has accused the Houthis of acting as proxy fighters for the United States and threatened renewed violence against them. In a late-November audio message on jihadist websites, al AQAP’s military commander Qassim al-Raymi said, “You have to know that the mosques of Muslims that you blew up along with their homes and schools, will not just pass unnoticed and you will pay the price dearly.”
AQAP is likely retaliating for military cooperation with the Houthis, and perceived cooperation with the United States. On 4 December, the group released a video featuring a hostage American photo-journalist Luke Somers. The group threatened to kill Somers if the US government did not give in to various demands. On 6 December, during an attempted rescue mission by US security forces in Shabwa, Somers was killed, along with a South African hostage.