Today CNN reported that the review process surrounding the decision to release 28 classified pages from a joint congressional report that focused on alleged Saudi Arabian involvement in 9/11 is in its final stages. Quoting Senator Bob Graham, the co-chair of the 2002 inquiry who has led the campaign to have them released, CNN stated that the review will be handed off to an inter-agency group, including intelligence, law enforcement and defense agencies. A final decision, according to Graham, will come sometime in June.
Yesterday, the New York Times posted a document released by the U.S. National Archives that points to what may be included in the still classified 28 pages. Dated June 6, 2003, the document includes a number of memos composed by 9/11 commission members detailing possible connections between the hijackers and Saudi government members. 47, mostly repetitive pages, includes a segment entitled, “A Brief Overview of Possible Saudi Government Connections to the September 11th attacks”. Two sub-headings detail proven and probably links between Saudi representatives and the hijackers. The first, “Southern Californian Connections”, include those with links to Saudi Arabia who have proven or strongly suggested links to two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. The second, “Other Possible Saudi Government Contacts”, includes a number of individuals with ties to Saudi Arabia who may have interacted with al-Hazmi or al-Mihdhar, either directly or through others.
Below I have created a crumbnet, using Thetus‘ Savanna technology, of the possible Saudi-9/11 links using the information provided under the Southern Californian Connections heading in the U.S. National Archives release. The crumbnet provides a brief overview and visual representation of the the links between Saudi-affiliated individuals and two of the 9/11 hijackers.
The following are the final messages of the nine lions of the Khalifah who were mobilized from their dens to bring an entire country – France – to her knees. This is how the latest release from Al-Hayat Media Center, the Islamic State’s foreign language propaganda arm, introduces viewers to the assailants that carried out last November’s terrorist attack in Paris. On Friday, 13 November, nine attackers targeted six separate locations across Paris, killing 130 and injuring another 368, roughly a third of them critically. As mentioned in a previous post, the events of 13 November made the attack the deadliest in France since World War II and may have been the deadliest attack in a Western city since 9/11. The attack began at 21:20 with a suicide bombing at the Stade de France, where French President Francois Hollande was in attendance to watch a soccer game against Germany. As two other suicide bombers targeted the stadium, another team of assailants shot up a bar and restaurant in the 10th district, near the Place de la Republique at 21:25 before moving on to target a cafe and pizzeria on rue de la Fontaine au Roi at 21:31. Another gun attack attack occurred on Rue de Charoone at 21:36, four minutes before a suicide bomber targeted Boulevard Voltaire. The deadliest attack began at 00:20 in the sold out 1,500 seat venue, Bataclan concert hall. Three attackers, wearing suicide belts, entered the concert hall, shooting indiscriminately with Kalashnikov assault rifles. When police stormed the building all three of the assailants managed to detonate their explosives. The machine gun fire and bombs resulted in the death of 98 people and the critical injury of another 99.
The French banner for Kill Them Wherever You Find Them
Kill Them Wherever You Find Them portrays the nine attackers (Abul Qa’qa’ al-Baljiki, Dhul-Qarnayan al-Baljiki, Abu Fu’ad al-Farsani, Abu Rayyan al-Faransi, Abu ‘Umar al-Baljiki, Abu Qital al-Faransi, Ali al-Iraqi, ‘Ukasharh al-Iraqi, and Abu Mujaed al-Baljik) as heroes, defending their coreligionists in the face of external intervention by the West in what seems to be viewed by the assailants as both a religious war in the Muslim world and a cosmic battle against the Christian West. To drive this message home, the Islamic State-based members of the Paris cell are shown executing murtad, apostates, after their statements have been completed, a mark of cruelty that has come to define Islamic State media outputs. Interestingly, it is the foreign fighters that are tasked with beheading their hostages, while the Iraqi members merely shoot their victims to death. The attackers also embrace the term terrorist, using it proudly and calling upon their coreligionists in the West to carry out attacks, using any means available, a call that the Islamic State has echoed repeatedly, whether through its official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani or individual Western members.
Abu Rayyan al-Faransi (Omar Ismail Mostefai), the last of the attackers to speak on film, highlights the importance of researchers understanding the legacy of jihadist thought. Aby Rayyan echoes Abdullah Azzam, the ideologue who spread the belief that jihad was fard ‘ayn (individually obligatory) when he calls on countrymen to emigrate to the Islamic State. While all of these facets of Kill Them Wherever You Find Them are important for further understanding the Islamic State, its ideology, goals and threat to the West, it is the release of the video itself that is the most important.
Mostefai claiming jihad is an individual duty
Kill Them Wherever You Find Them proves that the Paris attack was centrally directed by the higher echelons of the Islamic State, if not the group’s supposed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The fact that the video was released by Al-Hayat (the same outlet that releases the official Dabiq magazine and has produced a number of other high quality videos threatening the West) shows that the group played a much larger role than some previously had thought, and that the events in Paris were not merely inspired, with the Islamic State claiming responsibility after the fact, as it has done before. In fact, the first of the nine assailants to appear on film, Abu Qital al-Faransi, states, “I was sent by [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi] to cleanse the earth of disbelievers. Once the beheading is finished, he states, “soon on the Champs de Elysee”.
What is more chilling is this latest release ends with a clip from British PM David Cameron’s address to the French people, standing in solidarity with them after the Paris attacks. A caption then comes across the screen: Whoever Stands in the Ranks of Kufr Will Be A Target for Our Swords And Will Fall In Humiliation. It is likely that the next plot orchestrated within the so-called Caliphate will be attempted in the United Kingdom.
On Friday 15 January, four attackers stormed the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Following an overnight battle with Burkinabe troops and French special forces, the attackers were killed, two of which were reportedly women. The assault on the Splendid Hotel, frequented by foreigners, is first of its kind for the landlocked former French colony of 17 million and may mark a significant change in the security situation in West Africa.
In two statements online al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Mourabitoun, a spin off of AQIM that has since rejoined its parent organization, claimed responsibility for the attack that killed over 20 and injured 150. The former even released an audio file purportedly of a phone call between its media arm, Al-Andalus, and a Hassanniya-speaking attacker during the assault on the Splendid Hotel. In the claim of responsibility, AQIM characterized their terrorist operation as “revenge against France and the disbelieving West”, stating that while the operation was jointly carried out by the groups, it was members of al-Mourabitoun who had stormed the hotel.
This is not the first time that AQIM and al-Mourabitoun have carried out a joint attack targeting European civilians in West Africa. In November, the groups jointly stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali, killing at least 22, before the two attackers were put down by security forces. These attacks and other smaller ones come at a time of instability in western and northern Africa that has allowed jihadist groups in the region to take advantage of the chaos.
After an insurgency led by Tuareg rebels and their Arab allies threatened to overthrow the government of Mali, French troops entered the country in January 2013. Operation Serval, the result of an official request by the Malian interim government, was viewed as a success, having thwarted jihadists and co-opted rebel groups in the country. By the end of July, French and Malian forces seized all major cities, making the operation a model for the deployment of an expeditionary armed force. In the followup to Operation Serval, the French launched Operation Barkhane, deploying 3,000 troops across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritanian and Niger. Unlike Operation Serval, which was meant to secure territory from groups opposed to the Malian government, the ongoing Operation Barkhane is a wide ranging counter-terrorism mission dealing with an asymmetrical foe that takes advantage of the porous borders of the countries mentioned above and local knowledge of the region.
According to Andrew Lebovich, a vising fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations and expert on terrorism in West Africa, with French forces spread out for Operation Barkhane and the Malian government struggling to assert its control, AQIM and al-Mourabitoun, among others, have been able to return to a higher tempo of operations and attacks against Western and government interests in the country. Regaining control of areas in central Mali has allowed the jihadist groups to plot and carry out major attacks within the country, and now, in Burkina Faso. The attack in Ouagadougou on the Splendid Hotel is meant to target a regional ally of France involved in Operation Barkhane, spread French troops even thinner and force them to focus their efforts outside of Mali, providing AQIM and al-Mourabitoun with the ability to continue its growth in that country. It is also likely meant to have an impact on the ongoing United Nations peace process, an attempt to find a political solution between Mali’s central government, and the Coordination and Platform rebel alliances. AQIM and its allies rightly fear that any progress by the UN and the parties of the conflict toward a peaceful political solution would diminish their ability to have a robust presence in the country. After an insurgency led by Tuareg rebels and their Arab allies threatened to overthrow the government of Mali, French troops entered the country in January 2013. Operation Serval, the result of an official request by the Malian interim government, was viewed as a success, having thwarted jihadists and co-opted rebel groups in the country. By the end of July, French and Malian forces seized all major cities, making the operation a model for the deployment of an expeditionary armed force. In the followup to Operation Serval, the French launched Operation Barkhane, deploying 3,000 troops across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritanian and Niger. Unlike Operation Serval, which was meant to secure territory from groups opposed to the Malian government, the ongoing Operation Barkhane is a wide ranging counter-terrorism mission dealing with an asymmetrical foe that takes advantage of the porous borders of the countries mentioned above and local knowledge of the region.
This effort to undermine Burkinabe security, spread French forces and undercut the UN peace process is eased by the political and security situation in Burkina Faso. The country’s new president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, took power last month after the first free election in decades, a year of violent protests and an attempted coup. With the government’s inability to provide security across the country, including along the northern border with Mali, AQIM and al-Mourabitoun will likely attempt another attack against soft civilian targets in Burkina Faso. Having carried out the attack on the Blue Nile Hotel in Bamako and now what seems from initial reports to be a more complex attack on the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the next joint AQIM/al-Mourabitoun operation may prove to be even deadlier.
For more, see my interview yesterday with CTV News.