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Teras TRI Profiles - Ansar al-Islam
[aka Ansar al-Sunna; Ansar al-Sunna Army; Devotees of Islam; Followers of Islam in Kurdistan; Helpers of Islam; Jaish Ansar al-Sunna; Jund al-Islam; Kurdish Taliban; Kurdistan Supporters of Islam; Partisans of Islam; Soldiers of God; Soldiers of Islam; Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan].
The Salafi jihadists organization was established in 2001, possibly with the support of Al-Qaeda (although that has been denied by members of the group), among Kurdish Muslims in northern Iraq.At that time I had only about 30 members. It grew by incorporating foreign fighters, especially after the US invasion of Iraq. These included , next to Iraqis, Lebanese, Jordanian, Moroccan, Syrian, Palestiniand and Afghan fighters. 1 It has also sought recruits in Europe, including Italy.Several of its members hold European passports, especially from Italy.It has collaborated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
It changed its name after the US intervention in Iraq, to Ansar al-Sunna, to bave a broader appeal among the Iraqi population. However, in 2007 it switched back to its original name. It has ties with Al-Qaeda. And became one of the most significant resistance groups in Iraq, with a presence in western as well as central Iraq.2 Unitl his arrest in January 2004 in Norway, where he had lived for more than twelve years, Mullah Krekar headed the organization. 3 He was succeeded by Abu Abdallah al-Shafi.
There are no reliable figures about the number of followers among the Ansar al-Islam Kurds in Germany (esp. North Rhine Westphalia and southern Germany), but there are followers who collect money in Germany and transport it to northern Iraq. Recruitment for the fighting which was noted in 2003/2004 has been reduced in recent years. 4 In December 2004,w hen the Iraqi Prime Minister visited Germany, some of them hatched plans to kill him. According to Lorenzo Vidino by 2003 Ansar al Islam had its European base in Germany, more specifically in Munich where the money collected by Kurdish sympathizers came together with a certain “Doctor Omeid”That money was used to finance training camps in northern Iraq. One source of income was the smuggling of illegal immigrants into Europe, through Greece and Italy.5.It had cells in Stuttgar, Berlin, Cologne, Duisburg, Ulm, Frankfurt and Hamburg numberins at least one hundred memers by 2005.They would recruit young Kurish Muslims in Germany and bring them to Iraq for fighting, with some of them even becoming suicide bombers.6 Some Ansar al Isdlam members in Germany were also responsible for a plot to assassinate the Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on his visit to Berlin on 6 December 2003.7In the wake of this foiled plot, the German authorities dismantled part of the network, arresting 22 Ansar al Islam members in various cities., followed by some more arrests in 2005.8
Terrorist Organisations: Ansar al Islam Sarah Marsden
English name: Ansar al Islam (AI) (Supporters/Partisans of Islam)
Original name: ئهنسهر ئهل إسلام
Ansar al-Sunna; Ansar Al-Sunnah Army; Devotees of Islam; Followers of Islam in Kurdistan; Helpers of Islam; Jaish Ansar Al-Sunnah; Jund Al-Islam; Kurdish Taliban; Kurdistan Supporters of Islam; Partisans of Islam; Soldiers of God; Soldiers of Islam; Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan
Year of origin: 1 September Jund al-Islam emerged; in December 2001 they became Ansar al
Ideology: Religious extremist/nationalist separatist
AI is an Islamic fundamentalist group, formed following a merger between Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), a splinter Islamic group led by Mullah Krekar (START, n.d.), and possibly other Islamic factions that split from the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan. These include Hamas (not the Palestine-based group), Tawhid and the Second Soran Unit (Schanzer, 2004). It is described as a ‘Sunni extremist group of Iraqi Kurds and Arabs’ (The National Counterterrorism Center, n.d.). It is an offshoot of the Islamist Movement in Kurdish politics (ICG, 2003). The ideology of the group is said to be similar to the Wahabi philosophy, requiring a literal interpretation of the Qur’an; the promotion of virtue, and prevention of vice (Human Rights Watch, n.d.).
One of AI’s main aims is opposing the Patriotic Union of Kurdisatn (PUK) (Global Security, n.d.). In addition, the group’s stated aims are the formation of a Kurdish theocracy under Sharia law (Urosevich, 2006), an Islamic state in the all of Iraq, and for U.S. and coalition troops to leave Iraq (START, n.d.). They have a stronghold in the Halabja area of northern Iraq, and have imposed strict rules on the population including the banning of music, dancing, alcohol, television, women on public display as well as demanding adherence to prayer times (ICG, 2003). Failure to abide by these rules result in punishment, said to include the threat of stoning, amputation and death (Human Rights Watch, n.d.).
The name of the group is said to have alternated from Ansar al-Islam, which was used from December 2001-mid 2003 (Kohlman, 2007). Then fighting with US and PUK forces led to considerable losses for AI (Kohlman, 2007), and the group withdrew and regrouped under the name Ansar al-Sunna via a statement issued on 20 September, 2003 (Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, 2007; U.S. Department of State, 2008). They operated under this name until December 2007 (Kohlman, 2007). They have now reverted back to Ansar al-Islam (The National Counterterrorism Center, n.d.). This was declared in a statement by the leader Abu Abdullah al-Shafi, and aims to consolidate the group’s Salafi jihadist principles; “given our responsibility in maintaining the principles of Islam, the unity of Muslims, and to deal with existential issues that shall determine our survival.” (al-Shafi, 2007, reported in Kohlman, 2007).
Reports on the structure of the group have only been found referring to Ansar al-Sunna; these state that the group is organised into “small, highly mobile cells … divided into six division including a military and information division.” (Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, 2007:34). There are reportedly 13 brigades of between several dozen to several hundred members (Canada, IRB report, 2008), although no reports of this were found beyond this source.
AI was founded and initially led by Mullah Krukar; also known as Faraj Ahmed Najmuddin (Gregory, 2008). He was arrested in January 2004 in Norway where he had been in exile for 12 years (START, n.d.). It is reported that Abu Abdullah al-Shafi took over leadership of the group in late 2003 (Urosevich, 2006; Gregory, 2008).
Membership estimate (analyst):
Membership estimate (official):
Estimates range from less than 500 (START, n.d.) to 1,000 (Australia Joint Committee, 2007). The average reports is several hundred, said to include about 100 non-Kurds, as well as foreign Arabs, with a maximum of 2,000 ‘hardened fighters’ (ICG, 2003).
Estimated death toll:
AI are said to carry out regular (Site Intelligence Group, n.d.), if not weekly attacks in Iraq (Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, 2007), many of which are not claimed by the group. Therefore, an estimate of deaths is difficult to estimate, however a conservative figure would be in the thousands, perhaps between 1,000-2,000 people.
Assassination, shootings, conventional military attacks, executions, car bombings, suicide bombings, IEDs, kidnappings and extortion.
Location/area of operation:
Iraq, mainly in the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq (START, n.d.), their main base is in Halabja (Gregory, 2008), particularly the villages of Biyara and Tawela (Human Rights Watch, n.d.). However, they have been said to operate in other areas of Iraq (UNHCR, 2005).
With respect to AI operations outside Iraq, links with Italy have been alleged, with a cell of AI members possibly operating and recruiting there, (Karmon, 2006; Gregory, 2008). Several journalistic sources report that AI members had Italian passports, as well as an extensive network in northern Italy providing funds and recruits (see Schanzer, 2004). In addition, several individuals have been tried in Germany of providing money and support to AI, as well as of plotting to kill the Iraqi Prime Minister on a trip to Berlin (U.S. Department of State, 2008). There have also been reports of a recruiting cell operating in Catalonia, Spain, and operatives fundraising in Sweden (U.S. Department of State, 2008). In Turkey, seven AI members were sentenced for a plot to assassinate President George W. Bush in 2004 (U.S. Department of State, 2008). There are also reports that members of AI have found safe haven in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon (U.S. Department of State, 2008).
AI targets secular Iraqi Kurds, particularly members of the PUK, as well as targeting U.S. and coalition troops, Iraqi government and security forces, and Iraqi political parties (Gregory, 2008; U.S. Department of State, 2008). In addition, civilians thought to have ties with coalition forces including translators and cleaners have been targeted, along with Shi’a mosques and Christian churches (Gregory, 2008). Further, there has been increasing targeting of Western interests and increasingly sectarian Shia targets (Australian Joint Committee Report, 2007).
Operations is said to have carried out the second largest number of attacks by Sunni jihadists after al-Qaeda in Iraq (Gregory, 2008; U.S. Department of State, 2008), some of the attacks alleged to be by AI are detailed here, aiming to include the most high profile cases.
September, 2001: ambushed and killed 42 PUK fighters
2002: accused of attempted assassination of Barham Saleh, a Kurdish leader
June, 2002: bombed a restaurant, one child killed, many injured
July, 2002: attack on PUK fighters, killing 9
1 August, 2002: Bombing of Iraqi checkpoint in Khurmal, 4 injured
26 November, 2002: anti-personal mine attack, near Halabja, Suleimanya Province. Two killed, alleged to have links to al Qaeda
December 2002: attack on PUK fighters, killing 52.
2 February 2003: Assassination of Shawka Hajji Mushir, Kurdish parliamentarian and founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, five others were also killed. Following this attack they opened fire on the village where the meeting he was attending took place.
26 February, 2003: suicide bomb attack at military checkpoint in Halabja, killed four.
22 March, 2003: car bomb at Khormal checkpoint, killed an Australian journalist and three Kurdish fighters, nine injured.
24 September, 2003: hand grenade attack on a cinema in Mosul said to be showing pornographic films, two killed, and 20 injured. No responsibility was claimed, but is it likely it was AI.
1 February, 2004: suicide bomb attack on PUK and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters, killing 109, including KDP Deputy Prime Minster
17 March, 2004: bombed the Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad
October, 2004: execution of 12 Nepalese construction workers
21 December 2004: suicide bombing of US military dining facility, killing 24 soldiers and wounding 60.
January, 2005: assassination of Sheik Mahmoud Finjan in Baghdad, he was assistant to senior Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
28 April, 2005: kidnapped and killed six Sudanese drivers working for U.S. forces
4 May, 2005: attack on KDP office in Erbil, killing 60, and injuring 150
8 May, 2005: ambush of security contractors, killed 16
11 May, 2005: suicide bombing in Tikrit, killed 33 labourers
28 May, 2005: kidnapped and killed a Akihiko Saito Japanese hostage who was taken in the raid of the 8th May
14 June 2005: suicide attack in Kirkuk, killed 22, wounded 85
16 June 2005: assassination of Iraqi judge, Salem Mahmoud al-Haj Ali, in Mosul
22 August, 2005: three military attacks against Iraqi security forces in Mosul and Kirkuk, killing an unknown number
23 July 2006: assassination of Shia political figure in Diyali
23 July 2006: sniper shooting of two US soldiers in Meet;
23 July 2006: IED detonation in al-Miqdadiya, no casualties
29 September 2006: assassination by suicide bombing or Director of Policing in Kirkuuk, killing a number of other Iraqi officials
5 December, 2006: attack on US forces in al-Haqlaniya, West Baghdad using rocket launchers and automatic guns, killed several personnel
April, 2007: execution-style killing of approximately 23 Yazidi citizens in Mosul.
July, 2007: car bomb attack on police convoy in Kirkuk
October, 2007: suicide bombing of KDP offices in Khursbat
The group is said to have links to Iran (Gregory, 2008). It has been alleged, with some evidence, that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps provides support, including allowing AI members to travel through Iran to Afghanistan, provision of medical treatment, allowing a training camp to be set up in Iran, and helping them escape where necessary (ICG, 2005).
Links with other groups:
AI are said to have close ties to Al Qaeda (The National Counterterrorism Center, n.d.; U.S. Department of State, 2008; Schanzer, 2004; Global Security, n.d.), and have been described as the ‘Kurdish offspring of the al-Qaeda network’ (ICG, 2003). Al Qaeda are said to provide logistical support (Gregory, 2008) including funding and training (START, n.d.; Human Rights Watch, n.d.). There is evidence that AI fighters have trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 2005, cited in Home Office, 2008), and that AI have provided safe haven for al-Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan (Global Security, n.d.).
They also have shared members with al-Qaeda Organisation in the Land of the Two Rivers, or Al Qaeda in Iraq, (Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, 2007), Ansar al-Sunnah Army, and Tawhid and Jihad (START, n.d.); splinter groups of AI are the Saad bin Abi Waqas Brigades (START, n.d.), and Jaish al-Mujahedeen (UNHCR, 2005). They are reported (by the U.S. military) to have harboured Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, with its related links to al-Qaeda in Iraq (ICG, 2003). It seems likely that Zarqawi belonged to the group, and subsequently split from them to form his own organisation, which would become Al-Qaeda in Iraq (MERIA, 2006).
However, up to 2003, no independent sources have been able to confirm links between AI and al-Qaeda, although the link is plausible (ICG, 2003). Links to Saddam Hussein were also made by the U.S. government, in the context of support for the invasion of Iraq, particularly, that AI was the ‘missing link’ between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein (Schanzer, 2004), although there is little evidence of this link (ICG, 2003).
It is alleged that Iran provides support in the form of safe haven for its fighters and a safe route into Iraq for new fighters (Gregory, 2008). AI is described as receiving “active support from powerful factions in Iran”; this is considered particularly likely because they are hemmed in by PUK fighters on one side and Iran on the other, with militants known to travel through Iran to reach AI (ICG, 2003:8).
Whilst AI are Sunni and Iran Shiite, the link has been described as potentially tactical and temporary (ICG, 2003). Specifically, that through supporting an Islamic state in Iraqi Kurdistan, Iran could seek to influence the Iraqi government (Urosevich, 2006). There is said to be some support for the view that AI members have received support from Iranian sources (Human Rights Watch, n.d.). This is said to have diminished following the arrest of Mullah Krekar (ICG, 2003).
Sources of funding:
It is alleged that AI received al Qaeda ‘seed money’ possibly up to $600,000 (Schanzer, 2004), although this is unconfirmed. In addition, the group gets money from local sources, (START, n.d.), coming in part from extortion from local villagers (ICG, 2003). In addition, AI was allegedly funded by its founder, Mullah Krekar who had his assets frozen in December 2006 as a result of his links to terrorism (Gregory, 2008). Further finance is said to come from Saudi Arabia (Schanzer, 2004), and radicalised Kurdish communities abroad, as well as hostage taking and related ransom demands (Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, 2007). Funding is also said to come from Iran (Urosevich, 2006).
Source(s) of arms:
PUK officials have stated that AI have received arms from Iran, particularly Katusha rockets and mortar rounds (ICG, 2003).
Types of weapons:
Anti-personnel mines, guns, grenades, bombs, they are said to have new weapons including 82mm and 120mm mortar rounds (ICG, 2003).
Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 is said to have had a significant negative impact on the group, with many members trying to flee to Iran (START, n.d.). It was stated at the time that they had been defeated by joint PUK/U.S. forces (ICG, 2005), with a reported 259 fighters killed on attacks on their enclave (Schanzer, 2004). The arrest of Mullah Krekar in 2004 also inhibited the group. However, the U.S. occupation may have led to a new set of recruits in the form of foreign jihadists (START, n.d.).
Some sources state that an agreement was reached between Ansar al-Islam, Ansar al-Sunnah, the Islamic Army in Iraq, and the Army of the Mujahideen in May 2007, to form a united group: ‘The Jihad and Reformation Front’ (Gregory, 2008). This has its main focus as the removal of U.S. and coalition troops, and is said to be trying to adopt a more moderate version of Islamic doctrine. However, other sources (The National Counterterrorism Center, n.d.) state that AI has tried to distance itself from this cooperative by reverting to the name AI, in contrast to Ansar al-Sunna the group’s purported name between 2003-2007 (The National Counterterrorism Center, n.d.).
It is considered an active force in Northern and Central Iraq (Gregory, 2008) following a resurgence in 2004, with AI regrouping in the mountains on the Iraq-Iran border (Schanzer, 2004). Attacks are still being carried out, and the group may be considered a current threat in the north of Iraq, as well as having the potential to work overseas where it sees an opportunity. This is likely to continue until some form of settlement has been reached regarding the position of the Kurds in northern Iraq.
Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, (2007). Review of the re-listing of Ansar al-Sunna, JeM, LeJ, EIJ, IAA, AAA, and IMU as terrorist organisations. Retrieved March 16, 2009, from: http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/pjcis/grouped/report/report.pdf
Global Security, (n.d.). Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam). Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/ansar_al_islam.htm
Gregory, K. (2008). Ansar al-Islam (Iraq, Islamists/Kurdish Separatists), Ansar al-Sunnah. Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.cfr.org/publication/9237/ansar_alislam_iraq_islamistskurdish_separatists_.html
Human Rights Watch, (n.d.). Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan: Backgrounder on the crisis in Iraq. Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/mena/ansarbk020503.htm
International Crisis Group (ICG), (2003). Radical Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan: the mouse that roared? Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/report_archive/A400885_07022003.pdf
International Crisis Group (ICG), (2005). Iran in Iraq: how much influence. Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/middle_east___north_africa/iraq_iran_gulf/38_iran_in_iraq_how_much_influence.pdf
Karmon, E. (2006). Al-Qa’ida and the war on terror – after the war in Iraq. The Middle East Review of International Affairs, 10, (1). Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2006/issue1/Karmon.pdf
Kohlman, E. (2007). Ansar al-Sunnah acknowledges relationship with Ansar al-Islam, reverts to using Ansar al-Islam name. Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://counterterrorismblog.org/2007/12/ansar_alsunnah_acknowledges_re.php
The National Counterterrorism Center, (n.d.), Ansar al-Islam. Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/ai.html
Schanzer, J. (2004). Ansar al-Islam: Back in Iraq. Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2004, Vol. XI, (1). Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.meforum.org/579/ansar-al-islam-back-in-iraq#_ftnref89
START, (n.d.). Terrorist organisation profile: Ansar al-Islam. Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.start.umd.edu/start/data/tops/terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=3501
Home Office, (2008). Country of origin information report: Iraq. 15 August, 2008. [UK Border Agency]. Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs08/iraq-050908.doc - 2008-09-05
UNHCR, (2005). Country of origin information: Iraq. Online, UNHCR Refworld. Retrieved 16 March, 2009, from: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?docid=435637914&page=search
Urosevich, K. (2006). Kurdistan. In D. S. Reveron, and J. S. Murer, (Eds.). Flashpoints in the war on terrorism, (pp 43-64). New York: Routledge.
U.S. Department of State, (2008). Country reports on terrorism 2007. United States Department of State Publication Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. Retrieved 6 November, 2008, from: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/105904.pdf
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