Tag Archives: United States

Egyptian Authorities Raid Apartment, Killing 6 Linked To Hasm Movement

On March 25th Egyptian authorities raided an apartment building in the Beheira governorate region killing 6 people linked to Hasm, an armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that was put on the U.S. Department of Treasuries’ in January of 2018 and the United Kingdom’s (UK) proscribed terrorist organizations list in December of 2017. Several weapons were confiscated during the raid including six explosive devices, and four safes containing ammunition.

Hasm, a group founded by Mohamad Kamal who was a former council member for the Muslim Brotherhood, was constructed after the Brotherhood was ousted from power in 2013. In addition to Hasm, Kamal structured multiple terror cells like Ajnad Misr and Liwa al-Thawra. These groups targeted security forces on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests. But in October of 2016 Kamal was killed during a firefight with security forces in Cairo.

In 2016-17 Hasm carried out multiple attacks on Egyptian security personnel. The group had first announced its creation in July of 2016 after an attack in the Fayoum Governate. Then, in December of 2016 6 police officers were killed due to the explosion of a road side bomb at a police checkpoint. In October of 2017, 16 police officers were killed and 13 others were injured after attempting to raid a “desert hideout” 84 miles west of Cairo.

Hasm’s latest attack occurred on March 24th when the motorcade of Major-General Mostafa al-Nemr, the head security chief of Alexandria, was attacked. The motorcade was traveling through the neighborhood of Rushdi when a bomb under a car exploded killing two soldiers. The interior ministry said Brotherhood leader Bassem Gad was responsible for ordering the attack on al-Nemir’s convoy.

The attack came just days before Egypt’s 2018 presidential election which was held from March 26th-28th. Egypt has been beefing up security nationwide ahead of the election. In March of 2018 the Islamic State (IS) published announcements on a website called Akhbar al-Muslimeen warning the people of Egypt to stay away from election centers. IS also stated that if your home is adjacent to an election center, you should leave it temporarily.

The Islamic State has had relative success in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, but on February 9th, 2018, the Egyptian military launched an offensive against the Islamic State and have killed 105 IS fighters since the beginning of the operation. A military spokesman said that there is no time limit for the operation and it will conclude when it achieves its goal(s).

The Egyptian government should continue to target the Hasm Movement as their attacks continue throughout the nation. The designations from the UK and US will help Egyptian government officials in their fight against the movement.

Houthi Fighters Kill 3 People In Hospital

The latest missile attack by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels against the Saudi capital of Riyadh occurred March 25th, 2018 when Houthi fighters fired 7 missiles into Saudi territory, three of which aimed at Riyadh. One resident was killed, the first civilian death in Riyadh since 2015.

The conflict in Yemen is a proxy war between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Iranian-backed Houthi rebel fighters who control northern Yemen. The Iranian backed Houthis fired missiles at Saudi Arabia. In December of 2017 Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital Riyadh, but the missile was intercepted by Saudi air defenses. That was the third missile attack in the month of December.

Saudi Arabia and the Pentagon believe Iran was directly behind the missile launches, Iran denied any involvement.

The Saudi government believes that the missiles are being supplied by Iran. Multiple sources say Iran uses ships to deliver supplies to Yemen, either directly or through Somalia. Once the ships arrive in the region the supplies are then loaded on small fishing boats which are difficult to stop since they are so common in the area.

There is presently a United Nations arms embargo on Yemen, and the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade has been the source of criticism by humanitarian organizations and Saudi allies, including the United States.

The conditions in the war-torn country of Yemen continue to worsen. A UN security council said on March 15th that 22.2 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, which is an increase of 3 million from 2017. The war has killed an estimated 10,000 people.

But recent unrest over the price of gasoline in Houthi-controlled areas suggest that the economic pressure is having an impact.

On March 18th, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the Ibb province of Yemen killed three people and injured others after a quarrel at a gas station. Injured civilians were taken to a local hospital but were followed by Houthi fighters, who kidnapped and killed them. Similar events have occurred in the capitol of Sanaa where reports of Houthi fighters have arrested dozens of people waiting in long lines at gas stations.

Civilians blame the Houthi rebels for the hike in gas prices due to their monopolizing supplies. A cylinder of gas has reached up to 9,000 Yemeni Riyals compared to a cylinder of gas being 1,100 Riyals in unoccupied Houthi areas.

Saudi Arabia launched its intervention to reinstate the government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the Houthis, and their allies led by the late former President Ali Abdullah Saleh launched a coup, seizing the Yemeni capital of San’na. The Saudis have lead thousands of air strikes  supporting Yemeni forces, and local militias. But the coalition has made minimal gains and are far from retaking back the capital of Sanaa.

Saudi and Houthi officials have held months of talks in the neighboring country of Oman discussing an end to Yemen’s three-year war. The resolution would begin with a truce to halt fighting and allow for a conclusive peace deal.

The negotiations model previous  mediation efforts by Kuwait in 2016, which ended in failure. Saudi officials including the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman have expressed desires to wrap up the conflict.

 

 

 

Britain To Expel 23 Russian Diplomats Over Ex-Spy’s Poisoning

On March 14th British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow failed to explain the use of a Russian-made nerve agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were found unconscious on a shopping center bench in the city of Salisbury. British authorities confirmed that a nerve agent called Novichok was used on the Skripals. The Skripals remain in a British hospital in critical condition.

This is the largest expulsion of diplomats from Britain since the Cold War. May said that the nerve agent used on the Skripals was an “unlawful use of force” against Britain and that “All who have been identified as declared intelligence officers: they have just one week to leave.” May also added that no British officials or members of the Royal family will attend the World Cup, being hosted in Russia this year.

Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said the United Kingdom’s actions were “unacceptable,” and a “serious provocation.” Moscow is refusing to comply with May’s demands unless the government provides samples of the poison collected by investigators.

On March 14th U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley said the Trump administration “stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain.” Haley said Washington agrees with the UK assessment that the Russians are behind the poisoning and demanded a firm international response.

Russian intelligence has a long history of targeting defectors on British soil.

In November of 2006 Russian agents killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko using the radioactive agent polonium-210. Litvinenko was an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB) but fled to Britain, becoming a British citizen and critic of the Kremlin.

Four Russian diplomats were expelled from Brittan over the killing, and Britain broke off ties with Russia’s security services. The Russians responded by expelling four British diplomats. An inquiry set up by the government concluded Mr. Litvinenko’s death was “probably” approved by President Putin.

The UK government has said it will enforce new sanctions as well as begin detaining individuals suspected of ties to hostile state activity at the border. They will also increase checks on private flights and customs coming from Russia, and freeze Russian assets being used to compromise British security.

Leaders from the United States, Germany, and France have joined the UK in a joint statement which holds Russia responsible for the recent nerve attack. The four countries said in a joint statement that “It is an assault on U.K. sovereignty and any such use by a State party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said on March 15th that, “it certainly looks like the Russians were behind it.”

Russia is expected to take retaliatory measures. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision will come from President Vladimir Putin and it will “best reflect Russian interests.”

 

U.S. Drone Strike Kills 21 Pakistani Taliban Linked Fighters

On March 7th a U.S. drone fired missiles at a terrorist training camp linked to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Saresha Sultan Shah, Afghanistan, killing 21 Pakistani Taliban-linked fighters. The TTP has ties with, but is distinct from the Afghan Taliban.

Officials said the airstrike killed Gul Mohammad who is a TTP leader in the Bajaur Agency on the Afghan border, Qari Yaseen who officials describe as a “master trainer of suicide bombers,” and the son of TTP leader Fazlullah Khorasani.

While violence from TTP has dropped in recent years, they continue to carry out sporadic large-scale attacks. TTP’s most notorious attacks include the 2014 Peshawar school shooting where 141 students and staff were killed and the 2016 Bacha Khan University attack killing 30 people. In 2017, the TTP had killed 748 civilians and security forces which is down from 3,739 in 2012.

On May 1st of 2010 a Pakistani man named Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Time Square. Shahzad parked a white van on the side of the street and then fled the area, luckily the attempt ended in failure as the bomb did not go off. Qari Hussain Mehsud who is known to be the “top bomb maker” for the TTP took credit for the attempted attack. Five months later in September of 2010 the U.S. State Department put TTP on a list of terrorist organizations, and placed Hakimullah Mehsud whom was the TTP’s leader between 2009-2013 and Wali ur-Rehman who was a senior TTP commander as specially designated global terrorism.

TTP was formed in 2007 under Baitullah Mehsud and mostly operate on the northwest border of Pakistan in the Waziristan region. According to the State Department, TTP is fighting to overthrow Pakistan’s government. Since 2008 the Pakistani government has been fighting the TTP along the border with Afghanistan. In 2014 the Pakistani government conducted peace talks with the TTP to end the on-going conflict where thousands of people had been killed, but failed to reach any kind of agreement.

The failed peace talks does little to eliminate the image of Pakistan having done little to combat the TTP, one of several terrorist organizations that operate within Pakistan amid relative safety. For example, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which has operated openly in the country for years and their leader Saeed Hafiz whom was recently arrested, openly operated out of Pakistan. The group is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and numerous other attacks throughout Afghanistan and India.

Because of Pakistan’s failure to control Terror groups it is at risk of being placed on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) “grey” list. This could potentially hurt Pakistan’s economy, making it harder for the country to meet its foreign financing needs. This could lead to a downgrade in Pakistan’s debt rating making it difficult to tap into international bond markets.

Placing Pakistan on FATF’s grey list may not have any significant impact to Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan was on this same list between 2012 and 2015 where they were able to complete an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program and raise $5 billion from international bond markets. Pakistan’s imports and exports were also able to remain stable, giving little evidence that the grey listing had any significant impact.

Pakistan was able to avoid being put on the grey list back in February during a FATF meeting in Paris, by presenting a proposal on counter terror financing and money laundering. However, there will be another meeting in June and failing to satisfy FAFT could result in Pakistan being put on the black list alongside side North Korea and Iran.

The Pakistani government has let the situation regarding terrorism spiral out of control. Years of ignoring terror groups like LeT and doing relatively little to combat groups like the TTP has put them in the position of being put on FATF’s black list.

Kim Jong-un Open To Negotiations Over Nuclear Weapons

North Korea seeks to open talks between Pyongyang and Washington, according to a South Korean envoy who recently returned from North Korea.

Kim Jong Un reportedly said he is willing to negotiate with the U.S. on abandoning his nuclear weapons, also adding that he would suspend all nuclear and missile testing while such talks are underway.

Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser, said in a statement that the North has said there is no reason to possess nuclear weapons if the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed.

The Koreans also agreed to hold a summit meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un at the border in late April. Before the meeting the countries will install a hotline, for the first time, where both leaders can talk on the phone directly.

This is the first time under Kim Jong Un’s rule that he has discussed relinquishing his countries nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the U.S., following in his father Kim Jong-Il’s footsteps in 2005 when North Korea said they would end their nuclear weapons programs in return for security and energy benefits, but ultimately nothing happened.

President Donald Trump tweeted about the statements saying that “the world is watching” and “May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”

President Trump may be right about “false hopes”. North Korea has shown no signs of dismantling their nuclear program, which in January of 2003 North Korea withdrew from the NPT and in February reactivated a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor.

In the past, North Korea has made agreements about disabling nuclear facilities but have never followed through and acted. For example, in 2007 under the Bush administration the North Koreans agreed to disable all their nuclear facilities for 950,000 metric tons of fuel oil by the end of that year. But North Korea ended up missing the December 31st deadline giving no explanation.

Kim Jung Un’s offer to South Korea and the U.S. has come after months of mounting sanctions against his regime, which include relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, and tightening oil sanctions, both of which removed advantages won by North Korea in previous rounds of failed talks.  U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in mid-January that there is “a lot of evidence that these sanctions are starting to hurt” North Korea.

Observers have credited an increasingly hard line taken by President Trump, who has repeatedly targeted North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and has warned the U.S. stood ready to take action if necessary, with the recent change in North Korean policy.

Though Kim Jong Un’s willing to negotiate is a positive sign, the history of North Korea’s past negotiations gives little room for optimism.

MS-13 Killing Raises Questions About How To Handle Transnational Threat Groups

Written By: Preston Panetti and Dominic Smith

On March 6, 18 year old Carlos Otero-Henriquez was lured into a vehicle by six members of the Mara Savatrucha-13 (MS-13) gang. Under the impression that he was headed to a party. The police later found Carlos’s body at a rock quarry near Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. The group then dumped his body into a nearby ditch.

Carlos was stabbed more than 50 times and murdered over his apparent connection to the MS-13’ rival the 18th Street or Barrio-18 gang.

The MS-13 gang developed in  Los Angles in the 1980s, following the end of civil wars taking place throughout Central America. The influx of refugees fleeing conflicts in Guatemala ,Nicaragua and El Salvador provided a large community from which MS-13 could both hide among, as well as victimize.

The gang was originally composed of immigrants from El Salvador, many of them former guerillas with the communist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). FMLN is currently the ruling political party of El Salvador, with which MS-13 maintains close ties. Some FMLN leaders provide the gang with international connections, including to the Venezuelan government and the Colombian terrorist organization, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). MS-13 is believed to have 10,000 members in the US alone across 46 states with another 30,000-50,000 members in Central America.

The gang leaders in El Salvador maintain effective command and control of U.S. based “cliques” through a process known as, “La Programma.” La Programma provides direct control between gang leaders in Central America and MS-13 members on American streets. According to the U.S. Justice Department “La Programma” has directed U.S. MS-13 members to exercise increasing amounts of violence in order to secure territory.

The MS-13 gang is the only street-level gang referred to as a transnational criminal organization by the U.S. Government.

The MS-13 gang  produces approximately 31.2 million dollars in revenue a year, primarily from drug and human trafficking, with sidelines in money laundering and prostitution.

The MS-13 gang have become allies with the Los Zetas, Surenos, and the Sinaloa Cartels, which control drug trafficking routes into the United States from Mexico.

Arch rivals of MS-13 include Barrio 18 and their 50,000 members they have nationwide. The killing of the 18-year-old in Loudoun County had to do with the relationship between Barrio 18 and MS-13 because Carlos Otero-Henriquez was believed to have been a member of Barrio 18.

Recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions has raised the specter of designating MS-13 as a terrorist organization. While classifying MS-13 as a terrorist organization would provide more focus and resources to the effort, it does not seem to accurately reflect the current nature of the group, which is a criminal enterprise.

While a terrorism designation for MS-13 may be stretch, it is clear that the U.S. needs to make a more concerted effort to respond to what the recent U.S. National Security Strategy identified as “Transnational Threat Organizations,” which includes both terror groups and criminal organizations like MS-13. The proposed Trump Administration strategy stresses that such organizations rely on exploiting an open American society through loose network or confederations using encrypted or secure communications and taking advantage of access to territory within fragile states or ungoverned spaces. These challenges are magnified in cases where such groups have state sponsorship.

As a result, the U.S. must focus on stripping these advantages from Threat groups if they are to effectively deal with an organization like MS-13. This includes taking legislative steps to prevent transnational gang members from taking advantage of lax citizenship or immigration laws. The effort will also require working with willing U.S. allies in Central America, as well as pushing back against countries which cooperate or provide safe-haven with MS-13, possibly by sanctioning individual members of political parties or governments which facilitate such behavior.

Burkina Faso Capitol Rocked By Simultaneous Attacks

On March 2nd, seven soldiers and 9 assailants were killed, and 80 civilians were wounded during two simultaneous attacks on the French embassy and a military headquarters in Burkina Faso’s capitol Ouagadougou. While the other was on a military headquarters. The attack was claimed by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin) or JNIM.

The attack began when five gunmen jumped out of a truck in the city center shooting at passersby and then heading toward the French embassy, engaging local guards. No French troops were harmed during the attack.

The second attack took place at a military headquarters approximately 2 km away, and was initiated by a car bomb, followed by four gunmen opening fire on local troops. Victims were killed both on the perimeter as well as inside the premises.

The bombing likely targeted a G5 Sahel meeting being held on the base. G5 Sahel is a French-backed partnership of five countries in the Sahel region of Africa to fight against terrorism, the five countries include Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad.

The Ouagadougou attacks followed French raids in northern Mali carried out in past weeks. On February 14th a French operation took place killing 20 Jihadists that belonged to JNIM. A senior founder of JNIM Hasan al-Ansari was killed during the operation. JNIM issued a statement claiming the attack as revenge for recent French counterterrorism activity.

There are 4,000 French troops deployed in the region to work with militaries and engage with terrorist fighters. The U.S. has been hesitant to help the G5 Sahel due to their lack of a concrete border strategy but pledged $60 million in support. A 36-country coalition under the auspices of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (UNMISMS) also has 12,000 peace-keeping troops operating in Mali. The G5 Sahel force is pooling 5,000 men whom will become operational in mid-2018 alongside the 4,000 French forces.

G5 was launched in 2014 to develop policies on security matters in West Africa. In February of 2017 leaders of G5 as well as French President Emmanuel Macron decided to establish a joint force known as the G5 Sahel force, whose goal is to fight armed groups and transnational crime.

The G5 have identified three areas where the Sahel force will began operations, the cross border region of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, the second being the border between Mali and Mauritania, and lastly on the Niger Chad border where they will focus on combating groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic Maghrib (AQIM).

The estimated annual cost for the G5 Sahel will be $500 million, most of the money supporting the G5 is coming from outside of the region. The five African nations have pledged $57 million and the UN will match that amount while the U.S. has already pledged $60 million, other donors include the EU at 100 million Euros, Saudi Arabia at 100 million euros, and the United Arab Emirates at 30 million euros.

The G5 is an important movement in the Sahel region, many countries in this region have poor national governments, weak borders, wide open areas, and wide spread poverty which terror organizations and criminal networks thrive off. Attacks such as the one that occurred in Burkina Faso will only continue until the terror networks in the region are successfully confronted.

 

U.S. State Department Designates The Maute Group As A Terrorist Organization

On February 27th, the U.S. State Department designated ISIS-Philippines and the Maute group as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. As a result, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with the group.

Founded approximately 7 years ago by Omar and Abdullah Maute, the Maute group declared its allegiance to ISIS in 2014.

The Maute group is responsible for multiple attacks throughout the Philippines, including the September 2016 Davao market bombing killing 15 people and wounding 70 others, as well as an attempted bomb attack in November of 2016 near the U.S. embassy in Manilla.

The group is also responsible for the siege on the city of Marawi located in the southern island of Mindanao which occurred in May of 2017. The Maute group executed the attack in concert with the jihadist terror group Abu Sayyaf.

Born in the city of Marawi both brothers studied in the Middle East and became fluent in Arabic.

Omar attended Al-Azhar University in Egypt and Abdullah studied in Jordan. Their father Cayamora Maute had ties with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). MILF’s goal is to liberate the Mindanao region from the Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf broke away from MILF in 1991 because they disagreed with MILF’s policy of wanting to pursue regional autonomy. Abu Sayyaf seeks to establish an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The U.S. State Department designated Abu Sayyaf  as a terrorist organization in 1997 and the group has long standing ties to Al Qaeda.

The battle began due to government forces attempting to arrest a top IS leader Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader. This prompted the IS-affiliated groups Abu Sayyaf and the Maute to fight back. The groups burned buildings and took control of major bridges leading into the city.

The siege lasted 6 months and ended in October of 2017 after government troops stormed a hideout killing Hapilon. The battle resulted in 920 jihadist fighters, 165 government troops, and 45 civilians being killed.

The Maute brothers were both reportedly killed during the siege, Abdullah Maute was killed during an air strike in August of 2017 and Omar Maute was killed by a Filipino sniper in October of 2017.

Islamic terrorism is not a new phenomenon is the Philippines, MILF was founded in the 1970s and Abu Sayyaf split off from MILF in the 1990s. The identity and whereabouts of Maute Group’s current leader are unknown.

It is difficult for the Filipino government to maintain control over the entire country because it is made up of 7,107 islands.

The U.S. declaring the Philippines IS and the Maute group as terrorist organizations will limit the groups resources they need to carry out terrorist attacks which may help the Filipino government better take control of their country. However, over past years since 9/11 the U.S. has helped the Philippine military both financially and strategically.

After 9/11, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pledged her support for the U.S. saying that the Philippines are “prepared to go every step of the way,” allowing U.S. forces to use Philippine airspace, sea lanes, and military facilities. President Arroyo also stated that the country is ready to “deploy support and medical personnel and combat forces if requested by the United Nations.”

The Philippine government hoped that by working so closely with the U.S. military this would help them in their fight against terror groups like Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, which the U.S. in fact did.

In 2003, U.S. aid to the Philippines was $78.65 million as well as $2.4 million for military education and training and $93.2 million worth of military equipment. The U.S. has also directly supported the Philippine military by conducting military operations such as the Balikatan exercise.

The Balikatan exercise in 2002 lasted between January 15th through July 31st where 1,650 to 2,665 U.S. military personnel conducted for the first time in hostile areas in southern Mindanao, which was a big change from the original Balikatan exercises that began in 1981.

The latest Balikatan exercise was held in 2017 between May 8th – May 19th. The Balikatan exercise has been scaled down focusing more on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and counter terrorism.

Throughout 2018 the Philippine and U.S. militaries are planning on holding a total of 261 activities focusing on exchanges and exercises such as territorial defense exercises and humanitarian assistance.

The continued presence of terror threats like the Maute Group on the Philippine Islands is a reminder of the ongoing global nature of the U.S.-led fight against jihadist organizations, which takes place on every habitable continent. The U.S. must continue to coordinate with regional allies, and provide the necessary support to prevent the growth of ungoverned territory where terrorists can freely operate.

 

Islamic State Attacks Yemeni Government Counter Terrorism Center, Killing 14

On February 24th in the city of Aden in southern Yemen 14 people were killed and another 40 wounded during an attack on a Yemeni government counterterrorism center.

The attack took place in an area called Gold Mohr in Aden’s Tawahi district. Security sources said two suicide bombers detonated cars filled with explosives at the camp’s entrance just before six attackers attempted to enter the camp but were killed by guards. Many of the dead were soldiers, but a woman and two children were also killed.

This was the first terrorist attack since battles broke out last month between the Yemeni government and separatists over the control for Aden. Aden is the temporary capital of Yemen’s Hadi Government. The traditional Yemeni capital of Sanaa remains in the hands of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels after being captured early in the ongoing civil war.

Islamic State (IS) claimed the attack on their Amaq website. Over the past few years the IS has repeatedly attacked Aden mainly targeting government forces and Shia mosques.

As the civil war in Yemen continues to create problems for U.S. Counterterrorism operations. In December of 2017 the U.S. Defense Department acknowledged that the U.S. had launched “multiple ground operations” in Yemen and that the IS has doubled in size throughout 2017. The IS fighters are fleeing the fallen strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul through secret deals with Kurdish or other Arab forces and making their way to Yemen.

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) also said that the U.S. had conducted more than 120 airstrikes against al-Qaeda and the IS throughout 2017.

Up until these statements, very little was known about U.S. involvement within Yemen. In January of 2017 officials acknowledge a ground raid against al-Qaeda where one Navy Seal was killed.

The goal of the U.S. attacks was to disrupt the IS and al-Qaeda from using ungoverned spaces in Yemen as a hub for recruitment.

Donald Trump said in his National Security Strategy that “We crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq,” “and will continue pursuing them until they are destroyed.”

In order to do that the Trump administration will need to do more than “destroy” the IS with airstrikes. As long as Yemen remains a largely ungovernable space, it will continue to draw IS fighters and attacks will continue.

State Department Designates Ansarul Islam As A Terrorist Organization

On February 20th the United States State Department designated Ansarul Islam (AI) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, which results in the imposition of certain key sanctions on the group’s ability to engage in financial transactions and receive support.

AI is a terrorist group located in Burkina Faso. The group was formed in 2016 in Mondoro, Mali by Ibrahim Mala Dicko. Dicko created an operational base in the forests of central Mali, which was just across the border of Burkina Faso.

Dicko has a history of attempting to join other jihadist groups in West Africa. Dicko attempted to link up with Mali-based jihadist group Ansar Dine which has al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) ties. During the 2012 Mali conflict Dicko went and joined the northern rebels trying to take over the government. AQIM is a jihadist group and designated by the US as a terrorist organization. AQIM joined the northern rebels during the conflict, but the rebels were repelled by French forces and other African allies, with U.S. assistance in early 2013.

Dicko was arrested by French forces but was eventually released in 2015. He died in early 2017 and his brother Jafar took control of Ansarul Islam. Jafar was previously with Katibat Macina, an affiliate of Ansar Dine located in southern Mali.

AI launched their first ever attack in December of 2016, attacking military personnel in the town of Nassoumbou in northern Burkina Faso. The attack left 12 soldiers dead, one of the deadliest against Burkina Faso troops.

The group was also believed to be responsible for a February 2017 attack on two police stations in the Soum region of Burkina Faso, as well as the murder of two men in the village of Kourfayel in March of 2017.

Burkina Faso is a small land-locked country, but it is relatively new to being targeting by jihadist groups. The fear is that northern Burkina Faso is the starting point for AI and that they will eventually spread further south if not confronted.

For some time, the government has not done enough to combat the group. Officials have repeatedly condemned terror attacks but have taken limited action. After the attack on Kourfayel in March officials proposed withdrawing peace-keeping contingents in Sudan and Mali and reassigning those troops to fight the AI in the north, creating a multinational force in the Sahel region.

Burkina Faso is a new front for al-Qaeda and their affiliates through AI. The US declaring AI as a terrorist organization will place restrictions on them, such as that AI will not receive any US foreign assistance and Americans will be prohibited from doing transactions with the group, there will also be a ban on defense exports and sales. These restrictions will hopefully slow AI down from spreading throughout Burkina Faso.