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US government targets Islamic State's foreign fighters in new designations

The US State and Treasury Departments (US government, or USG) announced 35 new terrorism designations today. The designations target the Islamic State's (IS) so-called "provinces," foreign fighter facilitation networks, IS leaders and several jihadists from Western countries. The individual jihadists and organizations below were all designated by the State Department.

British and French citizens among designees

Today's designations highlight the threat of Western jihadist recruits planning, assisting, or inspiring terrorist plots in their home countries. One of the designees is Sally Jones, a British citizen who traveled to Syria to join IS in 2013. There, she fought "alongside" her husband, Junaid Hussain, who was killed in a US airstrike in Raqqa on August 24.

In a speech earlier this month, UK Prime Minister David Cameron discussed Hussain's case, saying he and other British nationals were "directing a number of planned terrorist attacks" in Britain, "such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer." Hussain is suspected of hacking CENTCOM's YouTube and Twitter pages in January. Acting on behalf of the "cybercaliphate," which hacks sites, Hussain is also suspected of posting addresses and other personal information for US officials and military personnel.

Foggy Bottom says that Sally Jones was involved in Hussain's efforts. "Jones and Hussain targeted American military personnel through publication of a 'hit list' online to encourage lone offender attacks," the State Department's announcement reads. "Jones has used social media to recruit women to join" IS and, in August 2015, "encouraged individuals aspiring to conduct attacks in Britain by offering guidance on how to construct homemade bombs."

Another jihadist included in the designations, Nasser Muthana, left his home in Cardiff, UK in November 2013 to join IS. Muthana admitted in a video released in June 2014 "to having participated in battles in Syria."

Two French citizens, Emilie Konig and Peter Cherif, and a French national, Maxime Hauchard, are among those designated. Konig joined IS in Syria in 2012 and has "directed individuals in France to attack French government institutions." Hauchard, according to State, joined IS in August 2013 and "appeared in the November 2014 execution video which depicted the beheadings of several Syrian soldiers and showed the severed head of an American hostage."

Cherif is not a member of IS, but instead al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has rejected the IS "caliphate." Cherif originally fought for al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and was captured near Fallujah in 2004. He was convicted of "illegally crossing the border" by an Iraqi court in 2006 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but escaped during a jailbreak orchestrated by the insurgents. He fled to Syria, where he was again detained and transferred to French custody. While awaiting trial in France, Cherif fled to Yemen and joined AQAP. Cherif has been convicted in absentia of belonging to a terrorist organization.

2 Islamic State "provinces" designated

Two of the Islamic State's so-called "provinces," one in the Caucasus and the other in the Khorasan (Afghanistan and Pakistan), are now officially recognized as terrorist organizations by the USG.

The Caucasus "province" was announced in June, after IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani publicly accepted the oaths of allegiance sworn by jihadists throughout the region. The Caucasus branch is headed by Rustam Asilderov, a former leader in the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE) who defected to the Islamic State late last year. Asilderov's defection set off a firestorm of controversy and bickering among the Caucasus jihadists.

ICE's leadership, bolstered by al Qaeda, tried and failed to stop IS from establishing a beachhead in the Caucasus. The back-to-back slayings of two ICE emirs certainly didn't help the pro-al Qaeda group's cause in this regard. Many jihadists from the region have already traveled to Syria, where they are either fighting for the Islamic State or as allies of al Qaeda's Al Nusrah Front.

The State Department's announcement mentions the Caucasus "province's" first claimed attack on September 2. The IS issued a statement in Arabic saying its Caucasus fighters had assaulted a Russian military base in Magaramkent, southern Dagestan. The claim was treated with skepticism by some analysts, but State says the attack "resulted in the deaths and injuries of a number of Russian citizens."

Another ICE defector, Tarkhan Ismailovich Gaziyev, is identified in State's designations. Gaziyev is described as "a North Caucasian foreign terrorist fighter who has been involved in the Chechen insurgency since 2003" and became the ICE commander "of the Southwestern Front of the Province of Chechnya" in 2007, carrying "out numerous attacks in this role." Gaziyev "later split from" ICE "in 2010 and then entered Syria through Turkey, where he now leads" Tarkhan Jamaat, a group "linked" to IS.

Still another jihadist who was "associated" with ICE has been designated a terrorist. The State Department describes Shamil Izmaylov as "a well-known Russian foreign terrorist fighter currently in Syria." He operated in Egypt at one point, setting up "his own--training center" there prior to relocating to Syria in 2012. Izmaylov has "established his own Russian-speaking" IS "faction in Raqqa."

In January, Adnani announced IS' expansion into the Khorasan. The "province" there is run by Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former commander in the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e Taliban, or TTP) who announced his allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in late 2014. The IS arm "consists of former Pakistani and Afghan Taliban faction commanders," according to State. This is consistent with The Long War Journal's analysis of the Khorasan "province," as it has been clear for some time that IS is picking off disaffected operatives in the region.

In addition to designating the IS "provinces" in the Caucasus and the Khorasan, State amended the designation for Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), a Sinai-based jihadist group. ABM was originally designated prior to joining to the IS camp in November 2014, but it has acted as the Sinai "province" of the "caliphate" since then.

Other IS-affiliated groups designated

Both Jund al Khilafah in Algeria and Mujahidin Indonesian Timur (MIT) were added to the USG's list of designated terrorist organizations today. Jund al Khilafh consists of a group of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) "military commanders" who "broke away" to join IS in September of last year. It "is best known for its abduction and subsequent beheading of French national Herve Gourdel in September 2014," State says. According to press reports, however, Jund al Khilafah has suffered significant losses at the hands of the Algerian government.

The MIT's leader in Indonesia, Abu Warda Santoso, swore allegiance to Baghdadi in July 2014. The "MIT has become increasingly bold in its attacks on security forces, which includes the use of explosives and shootings," according to State.

Two additional IS members are now designated as well. One is Gulmurod Khalimov, a former "Tajikistan special operations colonel, police commander, and military expert" who is now an IS "member and recruiter" in Syria. Khalimov was previously "the commander of a special paramilitary unit in the Tajikistan Ministry of Interior." The other IS member is Boubaker Hakim, who once worked with Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia. Hakim has "claimed responsibility for the assassinations of two Tunisian political leaders in 2013" and "worked with related associates to target Western diplomats in North Africa."

Finally, State designated Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al Naqshabandi (JRTN), a Baathist group, as a terrorist organization. Although JRTN is working to overthrow the Iraqi government in the hopes of installing a Baathist "or similar regime," it "played an important role in some of [IS'] most significant military advances, including the seizure of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city" in 2014.

[Source: By Thomas Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, NJ, 29Sep15]

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