CTP’s Threat Update series is a weekly update and assessment of Iran and the al Qaeda network. CTP’s Iran team follows developments on the internal politics, nuclear negotiations, and regional conflicts closely. The al Qaeda network update includes detailed assessments of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and the Maghreb and Sahel.
Below are the top three takeaways from the week:
1. UN-led Yemeni peace talks collapsed as both sides continued to take offensive actions on the ground. Coalition-aligned forces seized key territory in northern Yemen and al Houthi-Saleh forces fired a Tochka missile at a coalition camp in Taiz, killing a Saudi officer.
2. The December 17 signing Libyan Government of National Accord agreement and establishment of a new unity government is unlikely to unite factions on the ground and will probably further fracture the state. Delegates from Libya’s two rival governments, the Tripoli-based General National Congress and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, signed the accord, but did not represent their constituencies. Some Libyan armed groups may re-align themselves with the new government in order to increase their legitimacy among international observers.
3. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) media arm countered the emergence of an Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham presence in Algeria with propaganda showing AQIM militants proselytizing to locals. Al Qaeda affiliates continue to build a base within populations through local outreach campaigns.
AEI’S CRITICAL THREATS PROJECT
UPDATE AND ASSESSMENT
December 22, 2015
TOP THREE TAKEAWAYS
1. UN-led Yemeni peace talks collapsed as both sides continued to take offensive actions on the ground.
Coalition-aligned forces seized key territory in northern Yemen and al Houthi-Saleh forces fired a Tochka
missile at a coalition camp in Taiz, killing a Saudi officer.
2. The December 17 signing Libyan Government of National Accord agreement and establishment of a new
unity government is unlikely to unite factions on the ground and will probably further fracture the state.
3. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s media arm countered the emergence of an ISIS presence in Algeria with
propaganda showing AQIM militants proselytizing to locals. Al Qaeda affiliates continue to build a base
within populations through local outreach campaigns.
al Qaeda Network
Details emerging during the investigation into the San Bernardino shootings indicate that Syed Rizwan Farook and the man
who bought the guns used in the attack followed the works of al Qaeda cleric Anwar al Awlaki. These continuing revelations, as
well as Farook’s reported attempts to connect with individuals linked to al Qaeda affiliates al Shabaab and Jabhat al Nusra,
show that al Qaeda played a critical role in inspiring and motivating the attackers. The attacks ties to the Islamic State in Iraq
and al Sham (ISIS) come from the Farook’s wife’s Facebook post pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Al
Qaeda continues to attract new recruits and its message resonates among radicalized individuals.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) revealed the identity of one of its founders, Ibrahim Abu Salih, in the early
December video that also publicized the presence of another former Guantanamo detainee within AQAP’s leadership ranks.
Ibrahim Abu Salih (AKA Abu al Hassan al Hashimi) is AQAP’s chief of security and sits on its shura council. The decision to
continue to reveal these veteran leaders shows the depth of the al Qaeda leadership bench in Yemen.
Outlook: Al Qaeda will likely continue to pursue a long-term strategy in which it builds strength among its affiliates and benefits
from the West’s focus on defeating the ISIS threat.
UN-led peace talks between President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s faction and the al Houthi-Saleh faction in Geneva ended
without significant progress, though there are plans for further talks in January. Continued offensive operations on the ground by
both sides at the start of the talks dimmed hopes that the overall ceasefire would hold. UN representatives claim that a dispute
over a prisoner exchange proved to be the major stumbling block.
Outlook: It remains unlikely that either side will make major concessions in order to advance progress on a political settlement.
Al Houthi-Saleh forces continued to bombard Saudi border positions, launching an estimated six missile attacks on Jazan
province, and vowed to regain key sites in al Jawf that coalition-backed popular resistance forces recently secured. The coalition
announced plans for a new offensive to seize Amran governorate which lies between Sana’a and Sa’ada, the al Houthis’
stronghold. Coalition airstrikes targeted al Houthi-Saleh positions in Sana’a, al Jawf, Sa’ada, and Hajjah.
Outlook: Coalition-backed forces seek secure strategic positions that would allow coalition forces to contest al Houthi-Saleh
forces in Sana’a and possibly, Sa’ada. It is likely that their efforts to push al Houthis from their strongholds in the north will
achieve only limited success, much like their offensive against al Houthi strongholds in the south in Taiz and al Dhaleh.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS in Yemen
AQAP leader Qasim al Raymi reiterated AQAP’s stance that the U.S. is its primary target and asserted that ISIS does not have
an Islamic emirate in Yemen. The AQAP video was Raymi’s first video appearance since he assumed the role of emir in June
2015. Al Raymi reiterated AQAP’s stance that the United States is their primary target and asserted that ISIS has no Islamic
emirate in Yemen. AQAP also took credit for attacks in al Bayda, Shabwah, and Sana’a governorates.
Outlook: Qasim al Raymi’s appearance in AQAP’s videos marks the second time in as many weeks that AQAP released a video
featuring its leaders. AQAP will continue to seek legitimacy as the foremost jihadist group in Yemen.
YEMENGULF OF ADEN
Somalia’s government is determining the 2016 presidential election’s electoral model. Puntland and Jubbaland administrations,
both of which operate with a degree of autonomy from the federal government, favor a direct election while the government-
supported Galmudug, South West State, and still-to-be-formed Middle Shabelle and Hiraan administrations favor the “4.5” clan-
based electoral system. Breakaway Somaliland proposed a separate system where it gains half of the electoral votes, citing its
former independence from the rest of Somalia while the region was under British control.
Outlook: It is likely that federal government will continue to favor the “4.5” model over asks from autonomous administrations.
There is an uptick in militant activity in eastern Kenya. Somali, Kenyan, and Ethiopian officials met in Mandera to discuss ways
to address it. Kenya announced an indefinite extension of Operation “Linda Boni,” the campaign to clear al Shabaab’s presence
from the country’s Boni Forest region. Additionally, inter-clan violence in Marka and Beledweyne is straining Somalia’s limited
security capabilities by forcing the government to deploy soldiers to quell the violence.
Outlook: It is likely that pro-ISIS militants in southern Somalia will begin to conduct attacks against Kenya.
Al Shabaab is conducting an increasing number of attacks in Kenya. Al Shabaab spokespersons have been very vocal in
claiming credit for attacks the group conducts. They are also emphasizing the number of attacks carried out in Kenya over the
past week, likely in an effort to counter the reports that pro-ISIS elements are gaining a foothold in the country. Al Shabaab also
conducted numerous assassinations in and near the capital Mogadishu.
Outlook: It is likely that al Shabaab will continue to conduct attacks within Kenya’s borders in order to gain notoriety and
prevent pro-ISIS elements from gaining a foothold.
HORN OF AFRICAGULF OF ADEN
Libyan delegates from the House of Representatives (HoR), General National Congress (GNC), and other municipalities signed
the Libyan Political Accord and formed the Government of National Accord (GNA) on December 17 in Sakhirat, Morocco. The
international community cheered the outcome, but the delegates do not represent their constituencies and the GNA further
divides Libyan political factions. Leadership within the HoR and GNC regard it as an illegal entity, and Libya Dawn has hinted
that it may fight back against any attempts to move the GNA to Tripoli.
Outlook: International backers will struggle to implement the unity government without the support of local power brokers and
the GNA will likely create a third political bloc claiming national legitimacy.
The HoR-affiliated Libyan National Army (LNA) began ground operations in Ajdabiya in response to ISIS Wilayat Barqa’s
assassination campaign in the city and have killed several Ansar al Sharia leaders so far. The LNA also intensified its air and
ground operations targeting ISIS- and Ansar al Sharia-held positions in western and southern Benghazi, Libya.
Outlook: The LNA will continue to focus on Ajdabiya in an attempt to prevent an ISIS takeover.
Ansar al Sharia and ISIS in Libya
ISIS Wilayat Tarablus continued to validate longstanding rumors that the group maintains a base near Sabrata, Libya, west of
Tripoli. Suspected ISIS militants conducted their first IED attack on a military intelligence directorate in Sabrata, Libya.
The al Qaeda-linked Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna continued to clash with ISIS Wilayat Barqa forces outside of Derna,
Outlook: ISIS Wilayat Tarablus may conduct additional raids in Sabrata, with ancient Roman ruins in the city as a potential
AQIM released photos of its dawa (proselytizing) activities in Batna, Algeria, where its members dressed in military uniforms at a
fake checkpoint in order to stop drivers and proselytize. These photos demonstrate a focus on recruitment and challenges the
local ISIS presence to the north-east in Constantine. ISIS Wilayat Algeria claimed responsibility for its second improvised
explosive device attack on an army patrol just outside of the city of Constantine. Algerian army forces also killed the emir of an
AQIM brigade in Jijel, Algeria.
Outlook: AQIM will continue to release statements and conduct operations in an effort to drive recruitment and unite radical
Islamist militants in the region.
Uqba Ibn Nafa’a (Tunisia)
Uqba Ibn Nafa’a Brigade, an AQIM-linked group, remained quiet after its clash with the military on December 9. It continued its
defensive position in Mount Chaambi, while the military bombed the mountainous region in search of its hideouts.
Outlook: Uqba Ibn Nafa’a will defend its stronghold against the Tunisian military should the army attempt to engage the group on
Associated Movements in the Sahel (Ansar al Din, al Murabitoun)
Reports indicated that Malian jihadists threatened to kidnap foreign tourists from a popular national park in eastern Burkina Faso.
Most jihadists in Mali are AQIM-affiliated and kidnapping for ransom is one of the groups’ main operations. Gunmen, whom Malian
officials assume to be Islamist militants, assassinated a local counselor in the central Mopti region, claiming he was an informant.
This attack remains unclaimed; however, AQIM executed alleged informants recently.
Outlook: Ansar al Din and its affiliates will continue to conduct attacks in Mali in order to destabilize the region and gain control of
MAGHREB AND SAHELWEST AFRICA
Reactions to the Nuclear Deal
Senior Iranian officials praised the IAEA Board of Governors’ unanimous approval of a resolution closing its investigation into
the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Head Ali Akbar
Salehi called the resolution a “huge achievement” for Iran, while President Hassan Rouhani praised the IAEA’s decision as a
“great moral, political, and legal victory.” The IAEA’s passage of the resolution marks an important step ahead of
Implementation Day, which is expected to occur in early 2016 when the IAEA verifies that Iran has complied with its nuclear-
related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. On Implementation Day, the U.S., the EU, and
the United Nations will suspend or terminate the relevant nuclear-related sanctions.
Outlook: Iranian officials will insist that Implementation Day should occur by the end of January 2016 by stressing Iran's
compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA.
Several government and military officials pushed back on Expediency Discernment Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar
Hashemi Rafsanjani’s December 13 comments on the possibility of the Assembly of Experts electing a Leadership Council in
place of a single Supreme Leader. Armed Forces General Staff Headquarters Chief Major General Hassan Firouzabadi
stressed that such a council would weaken Iran in its struggle “against America and the Zionists,” while Ministry of Intelligence
and Security (MOIS) Head Hojjat ol Eslam Mahmoud Alavi stated that “not a single institution in the government is thinking
about a Leadership Council. This idea does not exist in the Constitution.” Registration for the February 2016 Assembly of
Experts elections opened on December 17.
Outlook: An increasing number of Iranian government and military officials will continue to reject the possibility of a Leadership
Council in place of a single Supreme Leader.
Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)
al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)
Coordination for the Movement of the Azawad (CMA)
Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA)
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)
Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS)
Libyan National Army (LNA)
Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)
United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)
Mujahideen Shura Council in Derna (MSCD)
National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA)
The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)
Pakistani Military (PakMil)
Possible military dimensions (PMD)
Somalia National Army (SNA)
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)
AEI’S CRITICAL THREATS PROJECT
Frederick W. Kagan
senior al Qaeda analyst
al Qaeda analyst
For more information about AEI’s Critical Threats Project, visit www.criticalthreats.org.