News Roundup, Week of 4 December, 2020

As Afghan government and Taliban representatives resumed their peace negotiations in Qatar, violence continue to unfold in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in the wake of a deadly attack unleashed by the East Indonesian Mujahideen (MIT) in Sulawesi, Indonesia is on alert.


Earlier this week, the MIT orchestrated an attack against a village in the sleepy Lembantongoa hamlet in Sigi, Central Sulawesi, which caused hundreds of residents to flee their homes. The pro-Daesh militants torched homes and killed four farmers who were members of the local Salvation Army Church – one of them was decapitated while another was immolated. This latest episode was one of the most violent incidents ever launched by the MIT under Ali Kalora’s leadership. The presence of MIT in Sigi may also be an indication that MIT is moving out of Palu and Poso areas due to the active counterterrorism operations conducted in the two areas. In response to the spate of MIT violence in the region, the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) sent a reinforcement of 30 people to Poso to aid the ongoing counterterrorism operation, Operation Tinombala.


Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, a suicide car bomber struck an army commando base in Ghazni, killing 31 people and injuring 24 others. All of them were security personnels. The attacker, who was later identified as Asmatullah Hamid, had detonated a Humvee filled with explosives. The attack was believed to have been masterminded by Hamza Waziristani, a Taliban militant. That very evening, the Afghanistan army succeeded in hunting and killing Waziristani in eastern Ghazni. Seven other terrorists were also killed during the air strike. In a separate incident on the same day, another suicide bomber detonated a vehicle in Qalat in the southern region of Zabul, targeting the provincial council chief, Atta Jan Haqbayan, who survived the attempted assassination.

News Roundup, Week of 27 November, 2020

This week saw Philippines security forces continue to sustain pressure on militants in the Southern Philippines. Meanwhile, Singaporean authorities made several terrorism-related arrests under the country’s Internal Security Act (ISA). Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) announced their new commander, five months after the death of their previous emir.


There were two separate clashes involving the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Philippines’ Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 in the Barangay Area, Sulu earlier this week. The first gun battle resulted in the death of Hatib Munap Binda, an ASG subleader who operated in Kalingalan Caluang and Panamo. Binda who joined ASG in 2002 was responsible for a series of kidnap-for-ransom (KSR) activities in the area. In a separate location, a second confrontation ensued between the security forces with another group led by Sansibar Bensio, also an ASG subleader active in KFR based in Panamao. During this encounter, Sansibar’s father Bensio Barahama was killed. Meanwhile in Singapore, 26-year old Bangladeshi labourer, Ahmed Faysal, was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for his involvement in terrorism activities. Faysal, who arrived in Singapore in 2017, became acquainted with Daesh materials online in 2018, which he translated into Bengali for dissemination. Faysal had planned to go to Syria to join Daesh. In 2019, Faysal had expressed his support for Hayat Tahrir al-Syam and donated money to the group. He also expressed his support for Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab. 


Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released a video announcement of their new chief, Abu Ubaidan Yusef al-Annabi to replace their first leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel (alias Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud). Droukdel was killed in a clash with the French forces during a counterterrorism operation by last June. Al-Annabi, who came from Annaba, Algeria, is AQIM’s senior member. He once led AQIM’s Council of Notables since 2010 and played a key role in AQ’s messaging. In July 2011, Al-Annabi was the first AQIM member to pledge bay’ah to Ayman al-Zawahiri soon after Osama bin Laden’s death. Al-Annabi came to prominence in 2013 over his call to Muslims to revolt against French interference in Mali. Al-Annabi’s appointment signals AQIM’s continued interest in driving out French influence and interests from Algeria, Maghreb, Sahara, Sahel, Mali, Libya, and Tunisia. Although Al-Annabi has a strong influence amongst AQIM followers, he will be facing various challenges. AQIM’s position in Algeria has weakened as the group has to compete with other armed movements, including Daesh. AQIM’s wing, namely Jama’a Nusrat aul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), recently clashed with Daesh network. This appointment of AQIM’s new leader is significant to AQIM in defending its position in Algeria through JNIM.

News Roundup, Week of 20 November, 2020

In a startling report, The New York Times revealed that intelligence officials have confirmed that Al-Qaeda’s deputy Emir, Abdullah Ahmed Abdulla aka Abu Muhammad al-Masri, had been slain in Iran on 7 August 2020 – exactly twenty-two years after he allegedly orchestrated the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Al-Masri, who was anticipated to replace Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s reclusive chief, was driving along the streets of Tehran with his daughter, Maryam, next to him when he was gunned down by two assassins riding on a motorcycle. Various reports suggested that Maryam, who was the widow to Osama bin Laden’s late son Hamza bin Laden, was no mere unfortunate casualty in the shooting but was also herself a target of high value because she was being groomed for a leadership role in al-Qaeda, and intelligence suggested she was involved in operational planning. The assassination was kept a secret until recently. Simultaneously, credible news are circulating that al-Zawahiri himself has passed away last month from natural causes in his domicile in an undisclosed location. Al-Zawahiri, who stepped up to lead Al-Qaeda after bin Laden’s death in 2011, was reportedly to have been suffering from ailing health. While these claims have been unverified, nevertheless they pose some serious questions about the organisation’s future. With Al-Masri’s untimely demise, their deaths could potentially underscore a serious blow to Al-Qaeda and their operations. The last remaining old guard, Saif Al-Adel who is reportedly living in Iran, is rumoured to be next in line. 


Two members of the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) were shot dead by Indonesian counterterrorism unit Densus 88 during Operation Tinombala, a joint police and military task force, in West Desa Bolano, Palu in Sulawesi. Both suspects were wanted for their involvement in terrorist activities in Sulawesi. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, 19-year old Faharuden Hadji Sapilin (aka Abu Abbas), a member of Dawlah Islamiyah (DI), had surrendered himself to the 5th Infantry Battalion in Lanao del Sur, Southern Philippines. Previously, Faharuden had been involved in clashes with the security forces in Pagayawan, Marogong dan Tubaran di Lanao del Sur. Separately, in Parang Town, Maguindanao, three members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had surrendered to the security forces as well. They were part of BIFF’s cell, Kagi Karialan, and had acted as couriers for the BIFF network operating in Maguindanao.


Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has been removed from the country’s terror list as there is no credible evidence to support that ETIM poses a threat, a move welcomed by the The Uighur Human Rights Project based in Washington, DC. ETIM was listed in UN’s list of global terrorist organisation in 2002 and US’ terror list in 2004 during the George W. Bush administration following the War on Terror campaign at the time.

News Roundup, Week of 13 November, 2020

Against the backdrop of escalating violence in Afghanistan due to the failed peace talks in Qatar between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Democrat Joe Biden has won the 2020 United States (US) election to become the 46th US President after an intense week of vote tallying as the country grapples with an ever-rising Covid-19 death toll. President Donald Trump has refused to concede and is seeking to challenge the results. Undaunted, President-elect Biden is pushing forward with transition despite the incumbent President Trump blocking government officials from cooperating with Biden’s team and preventing him from accessing State Department resources and communiqués with foreign governments. Earlier this week, a defiant Biden unveiled his Covid-19 response task force that promises to harness the power of science to battle the pandemic. On the global stage, the Biden administration can be expected to reestablish US credibility and rebuild trust with allied countries. Afghan officials are hopeful that Biden would review the Afghan peace process and adopt a tougher stance on the militant group to “encourage” them to negotiate fairly and reduce their violence.


Meanwhile, earlier this week, Indonesia’s counterterrorism unit Densus 88 arrested seven terror suspects at separate locations in a series of raids. Five of them are members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) cell, while the remaining two are suspected members of the Daesh-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). Among those who were arrested was Ahmad Zaini (alias Ahyar/Epson), a suspected leader of JI. While these arrests suggest that JI and JAD members have been active in pursuing funds and arming themselves, however Indonesian government’s strict Covid-19 lockdown has also posed some restrictions on their day jobs and activities. A recent research by Indonesian NGO, PAKAR, these lockdowns have caused IS supporters and sympathisers to suffer from a severe loss of income. In turn, this has resulted in declining revenues for Jamaah Ansharud Daulah, Jamaah Ansharul Khilafah, and other pro-Daesh cells in Indonesia. This lack of funds have impacted these organisations’ capabilities. Previously, many experts predicted that pro-Daesh groups would attempt to exploit Covid-19 to regroup and plot attacks against their enemies, but as the year goes by, it appears that Daesh adherents are also people who are beleaguered by the challenges of the “new normal” imposed by the pandemic.


Two prominent Afghanistan journalists were killed within one week apart from each other. Former TV presenter Yama Siawash and two others were killed when a bomb attached to his car exploded near his home in Kabul earlier this week. Days later, radio journalist Elyas Dayee was killed in a targeted bomb blast in Helmand. No one has claimed responsibility for both attacks, though it is suspected that the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network was responsible for Siawash’s death. Meanwhile, four people were killed and 40 others were injured when a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) targeting a police headquarters in Maiwand district, south of Kandahar province exploded. Separately, Mohammad Hanif, a key member of the Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was killed in a security operation organised by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security in the Bakwa district of Farah province located in the western part of the country. Hanif, who was originally from Karachi, Pakistan, was a bomb-maker for the group. Initially, Hanif was a Taliban member who trained Taliban fighters in building bombs and IEDs before switching membership and joined Al-Qaeda in 2010. Hanif was also the vice Emir and a close aide to Asim Omar who led AQIS before he was killed in 2019 during a joint operation by the US and Afghanistan. Hanif’s death occurred just two weeks after another high-ranking AQ member, Abu Muhsin al-Masri, was killed by security operatives. While his passing would suggest that AQ is experiencing a strategic loss that may impact their leadership, nevertheless AQ as a group can be expected to remain resilient.


A group of militants attacked an Iraqi lookout point maintained by the Hashd al-Shaabi in Al-Radwaniyah, southwest of Baghdad earlier this week. The attackers used grenades and automatic weapons, which left eleven people dead and eight wounded during the clash. This incident was reportedly the deadliest attack on Iraqi security forces in months. Since Daesh’s defeat by the end of 2017, the US-led military coalition has reduced their presence in the country. Nevertheless, the group still poses a significant threat in the area. Daesh sleeper cells have been waging guerilla-style attacks on local military and security forces. Meanwhile, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, three people were wounded when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded during a World War I remembrance ceremony at the city’s non-Muslim cemetery. The French consulate had organised the commemoration event, which was attended by staffers from foreign diplomatic missions, including Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom and the US. The attack occurred at a time when tension between France and a number of Islamic countries is at an all-time high, stemming from French President Emmanuel Macron’s defiant defense of Charlie Hebdo’s republication of Prophet Muhammad’s SAW’s offensive caricatures. Daesh has claimed responsibility for both of these attacks. Given that the verdict from the Charlie Hebdo 2015 trial will be reached sometime this month, there are some concerns that more violence can be anticipated in the horizon from both Islamist and the Far Right supporters who are looking to exploit the current political friction.


Oil and gas rich-Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique witnessed a particularly gruesome week when the Daesh-linked Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah (ASWJ) attacked Nanjaba Village and Muatide Village. The militants burned down homes and abducted women and children. The insurgents also herded more than 50 people to a football pitch in Muatide Village before beheading and dismembering them. Authorities only learned about the massacre accounts of individuals who discovered the scattered remains. In 2019, Daesh declared that ASWJ was part of its branch of the Central Africa Province (ISCAP), which also includes the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) jihadists. ASWJ has been responsible for most of the increasing aggression and instability in Mozambique, and has been escalating violence the area in recent months.

News Roundup, Week of 5 November, 2020


This week had a particularly violent start, with what appeared to be a coordinated terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria as the city was about to enter COVID-19 lockdown on Monday, 2 November, 2020 . Early reports suggested that the shooting occurred in six different locations across the city centre. The shooting began at 2000 hrs local time close to the Seitenstettengasse Temple, which is the city’s main synagogue. Four people were killed and 23 others were wounded during the attack. The gunman was shot dead by police. Since then, the authorities have determined that the gunman was acting alone. He was later identified as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai, who had both Austrian and Macedonian citizenship. He was previously convicted and jailed for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS. He was released early on parole last December.


Earlier on the same day, Kabul University was stormed by gunmen. At least 22 were killed and 22 others were injured during the siege which lasted for several hours. Most of those killed were students of the university. The attack started when government officials were arriving for the opening of an Iranian book fair organised on campus, which was attended by several dignitaries at the time of the shooting. The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) has since claimed the attack which rocked the Afghanistan capital.


On 3rd November, the Philippine military successfully intercepted the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the midst of their plannings to carry out kidnapping activities in mainland Mindanao. Seven suspected members of ASG were killed following the encounter at sea. Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan, one of ASG’s top leaders and the designated Daesh emir in Mindanao, was one of the confirmed deaths during the clash. Three other deaths were identified as Mannul Sawadjaan, Mujapar Sawadjaan, and Madsmar Sawadjaan. Mannul and Mujapar were cousins of ASG bomb expert Mundi Sawadjaan, who is believed to have masterminded last August’s twin-suicide bombing in Jolo, while Madsmar was Mundi’s brother. The Jolo attack saw 14 dead and 75 wounded.