US successfully kills fictional terror group’s leader a 3rd time

U.S_State_Department_photo_of_Muhsin_al-FadhliThis week the Pentagon says that earlier this month it killed Muhsin Al-Fadhli, the leader of the (purportedly real) “Khorasan Group” — alleged to be a Syrian-based outpost of al-Qaeda’s central command — in an airstrike in Syria.

There’s a big problem, though. This is at least the THIRD time, the United States has supposedly killed Muhsin Al-Fadhli in an airstrike in Syria. An International Business Times article from September 28, 2014 reported that he had just been killed by a U.S. airstrike in Syria, but also that he had been previously reported to have been killed by a U.S. airstrike in Syria.

Possibly the bigger problem, though, is that it’s still unclear the group he supposedly leads actually … exists.

Let’s look back at the puzzling framing of other articles from September 2014 about U.S. airstrikes in Syria targeting the group.

New York Times – September 20, 2014:

American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year […]

There is almost no public information about the Khorasan group, which was described by several intelligence, law enforcement and military officials as being made up of Qaeda operatives from across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in devising terror plots using concealed explosives. It is unclear who, besides Mr. Fadhli, is part of the Khorasan group.
Ayman al-Zawahri, the head of Al Qaeda, anointed the Nusra Front as its official branch in Syria and cut ties with the Islamic State early this year after it refused to follow his orders to fight only in Iraq. Officials said that Khorasan was an offshoot of the Nusra Front.

The Washington Post – September 22, 2014:

In addition to a broader campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State targets across Syria on Monday night, the United States also pounded a little-known, but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct threat to the United States.

The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday morning that U.S. warplanes conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell, called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”

And then there was Buzzfeed’s excellent report (9/23/14) by Rosie Gray, headlined “How ‘Khorasan’ Went From Nowhere To The Biggest Threat To The U.S.” I think this one line about sums up how absurd this sudden appearance of another supposedly existential, imminent threat is:

“I knew about the group a year ago from the media but didn’t know the name or personalities until the past few days — again from the media,” said Will McCants, a terrorism analyst and fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Most of the other experts quoted either instinctively suggested this group is a huge threat (because of course they do) or said it’s borderline made-up.

Then, on November 14, 2014, the LA Times reported more airstrikes — officially undertaken against “Khorasan,” but which seemed to hit an awful lot of major Nusra Front facilities. And one big issue leapt out:

Many opposition activists in Syria and elsewhere doubt the existence of Khorasan, contending that the targets being attacked are actually Al Nusra Front strongholds. Last week, as Centcom announced the second round of strikes on Khorasan positions, opposition activists said warplanes had hit the headquarters of Al Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham, another hard-line rebel group with Al Qaeda links.

To recap all of this: The purported organization only came into public knowledge hours before it was first attacked by the U.S. military in September, and locals say it does not exist and is solely a made-up front for unofficially targeting the popular and very real and very large Nusra Front of al-Qaeda in Syria, while suggesting some sort of distinction between the internationalist and Syria-facing segments of Qaeda’s presence in the country that isn’t really there.

(Nusra Front, incidentally, is now openly coordinating closely with and even commanding the U.S.-backed and outmatched “Free Syrian Army.”)

And our leaders, public officials, and media outlets are — by and large — just rolling along with this fairly transparent and repeatedly invalidated fiction.

Back to this week’s news. Here’s a “interesting” assessment of the supposed assassination of the supposed group’s supposed leader:

“A seasoned, knowledgeable and dangerous terrorist who actively sought to harm the United States and its allies has been taken off the battlefield for good,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, noting that al-Fadhli will not be easily replaced.

Except, I suppose, if he replaces himself with himself if he’s still not dead.

Nusra Front releases Fiji peacekeepers held in Syria

Qatar has “negotiated” (paid the ransom?) for the release of 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers deployed in Golan Heights being held by Nusra Front, Syria’s Al Qaeda branch.

Oddly, one of the (presumably unmet) demands reported by the Fijian troops was that Nusra Front wants to be de-listed as a terrorist organization…which, you know, is a tough sell when you’ve just kidnapped United Nations troops and held them for ransom. Nusra Front is a member of the disparate assembly of Sunni Arab rebel forces opposing both ISIS and Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s three-way civil war. They are likely to benefit inadvertently from President Obama’s and Congress’s proposed increase of weapons and funding for anti-ISIS/anti-Assad forces.

In related news, Philippines peacekeepers who had refused to surrender at two separate locations on the same day the Fijian troops were captured managed to break out successfully, with some help from Irish peacekeepers. The UN forces are stationed permanently in Golan Heights, between the Israeli-occupied zone and the Syrian zone, in an arrangement implemented in 1974. The increasing active danger due to the Syrian civil war, including these hostage episodes, has prompted a number of peacekeeper-supplying nations to withdraw or consider withdrawing their troops from Golan Heights.

Still image from a Nusra Front video of Fijian peacekeeper hostages shortly before their release.

Still image from a Nusra Front video of Fijian peacekeeper hostages shortly before their release.

Wave of terrorism in Nigeria?

A year ago, the world was focused on a young Nigerian man who had packed explosives into his underwear and tried to blow up a transatlantic flight over Michigan on Christmas Day. But as he was not trained in Nigeria (in fact, Yemen, which is much more commonly associated with terrorist threats), and as he was not “typical” of those considered at risk for falling in with terrorists (he was nicknamed the “Trust-Fund Terrorist”) the world’s eye soon turned away from Nigeria as a big terrorism risk. At present, though he may have been an unrelated outlier, this response is starting look have looked premature unfortunately…

October 1, twin car bombs go off in the midst of a re-election rally for President Jonathan:

All that was left of two cars packed with explosives was their smouldering chassis after they had been blown up on October 1st near Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, while surrounded by unsuspecting citizens celebrating the 50th anniversary of their country’s independence. At least 12 people died and dozens were injured in this year’s most worrying act of political violence. A well-known rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which is most active in the oil-producing south, claimed responsibility but blamed the government for the deaths, insisting that it had ignored back-channel warnings given 24 hours before the blasts.

The attacks took place close to President Goodluck Jonathan, as he was reviewing a parade a few hundred yards away in front of invited dignitaries. Shortly before the bombings he had declared: “There is certainly much to celebrate: our freedom, our strength, our unity and our resilience.”
The attack in Abuja is unlikely to be the last act of political violence in Nigeria before the poll. The country’s police say they foiled a similar attack in September.

Christmas Eve bombings spark riots:

Clashes broke out between armed Christian and Muslim groups near the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, after Christmas Eve bombings in the region killed more than 30 people.

Buildings were set ablaze and people were seen running for cover as the police and military arrived on the scene in an effort to disperse crowds. Injured people covered in blood were being dragged by friends and family to hospital.

The unrest was triggered by explosions on Christmas Eve in villages near Jos, capital of Plateau state, that killed at least 32 people and left 74 critically injured.

December 29, Islamist group explodes two bombs in the Delta Region at a political rally:

Bombs hit a political rally in a southern Nigerian city on Wednesday, a day after three people were shot and killed in the north of the country, as tensions rose before a series of elections next year. The two bombs exploded in the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa’s largest oil and gas industry, and the police said they caused injuries but no deaths. Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group, was believed to be behind the killing of the three people on Tuesday, the police said. The victims, including a senior police officer, were killed when men fired shots in a teaching hospital in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.

There are two relatively distinct political problems in Nigeria that could involve terrorism: a north/south geopolitical and cultural divide and the ongoing Niger Delta conflict. While the problem of internecine violence between those identifying with the country’s north and those identifying with the south has been a lengthy one, there is some question as to whether it is taking on a more terroristic edge.

Read more