The Critical Threats Project releases a weekly update and assessment on the al Qaeda network.
- The death of the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdul Rahman, may inspire retaliatory attacks against U.S. targets. Abdul Rahman, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, died of natural causes in prison in North Carolina on February 18. Al Qaeda’s General Command called for revenge attacks on Americans and U.S. interests and accused the U.S. of killing Abdul Rahman by withholding his medication in prison. The joint statement from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) eulogizing Abdul Rahman and calling for revenge attacks indicates the continued close coordination between the two affiliates. Al Shabaab released a separate statement. Al Qaeda’s al Nafeer bulletin released Abdul Rahman’s will, in which he accused the U.S. of poisoning and abusing him. [Read Katherine Zimmerman and Jennifer Cafarella’s assessment of al Qaeda’s global attack capabilities.]
- Al Shabaab increased its operational tempo in Mogadishu in an effort to disrupt Somalia’s new administration. Al Shabaab militants detonated a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) in a crowded market in Mogadishu on February 19, killing dozens of people. A senior al Shabaab official threatened a “vicious war” against the new government on February 19. Al Shabaab is also conducting an assassination campaign targeting government officials and elders who supported the electoral process. Former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud ceremonially transferred power to new President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo on February 16 in a ceremony that al Shabaab attempted to disrupt with mortar fire. [Read CTP’s assessment of al Shabaab’s territorial gains in central Somalia in late 2016.]
- A Boko Haram faction affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) may exploit famine conditions in the Lake Chad Basin to increase recruitment and build a local support base. This faction, also known as ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya (West Africa Province), seeks to attack Western targets throughout West Africa. It has built ties to local populations that allow it to access supplies and deliver aid in the midst of widespread food insecurity. A rival Boko Haram faction led by Abubakr Shekau has alienated the local population may lose militants to the better-resourced ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya, which will in turn expand the scope and scale of its operations against regional states.