By: Terence P. Jeffrey
June 13, 2014
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), issued a rare audio message back on January 21 in which he flatly stated his group’s intention to march on Baghdad and move into “direct confrontation” with the United States.
“Our last message is to the Americans. Soon we will be in direct confrontation, and the sons of Islam have prepared for such a day,” Baghdadi said. “So watch, for we are with you, watching.”
When the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on February 5 on al Qaida’s resurgence in Iraq, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran and Iraq Brett McGurk presented written testimony explaining the agenda of ISIS (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL), and discussed Baghdadi’s audio message to Americans.
ISIL, McGurk said, focuses on “an aim to carve out an Islamic caliphate stretching from Baghdad to Lebanon.”
“ISIL has also made its intentions clear: move from a new base of operations in Fallujah to Baghdad–a distance of under 30 miles,” McGurk said in his written testimony. “Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had this to say in a rare audio statement issued on January 21: ‘As for ISIS in Iraq: Be in the frontlines against the Shia, and march toward Baghdad and the South, keep the Shia busy in their own areas. Know that the entire Sunni population and the brothers in Syria are watching you.’”
McGurk then noted that Baghdadi went on to conclude his audio statement by issuing a direct threat to the United States. Specifically, Baghdadi said: “Our last message is to the Americans. Soon we will be in direct confrontation, and the sons of Islam have prepared for such a day. So watch, for we are with you, watching.”
“We take such threats seriously and through cooperation with this committee and the Congress, we intend to help the Iraqis in their efforts to defeat ISIL over long term,” McGurk told the committee in his spoken testimony.
The day before McGurk appeared in the Foreign Affairs Committee, CIA Director John Brennan testified at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s annual hearing on “Worldwide Threats.” Discussing Jabhat al Nusra, which is the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and ISIL, Brennan warned that al Qaeda may develop the capability to “use Syria as a launching pad” for attacks on the West, and that al Qaeda already had training camps both in Syria and Iraq where it was developing capabilities that could threaten the West.
“There are three groups of people [operating in Eastern Syria] that are a concern, from an extremist standpoint; Ahrar Asham, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the Al Qaida element within Syria, and the Islamic state of Iraq and Levant,” said Brennan. “It’s those latter two I think are most dedicated to a terrorist agenda.
“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaida organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad,” he said.
“So it’s those elements–Al Qaida and ISIL–that I’m concerned about, and especially the ability of these groups to attract individuals from other countries, both from the West, as well as throughout the Middle East and South Asia, and with some experienced operatives there who have had experience in carrying out a global Jihad,” Brennan continued.
“There are camps inside of both Iraq and Syria that are used by Al Qaida to develop capabilities that are applicable, both in the theater, as well as beyond,” the CIA director testified.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers asked Brennan: “Do you believe that that ungoverned space presents a real threat to the United States of America, via al Qaida operations, or the West?
“I do,” said Brennan.
On Feb. 2, al Qaeda had issued a statement on inline disassociating itself from ISIL, which had tried to take over al Nusra Front, which al Qaeda had designated as its official affiliate in Syria. In his Feb. 5 testimony, McGurk discussed this break between al Qaeda and ISIL.
“ISIL and al Nusra were both kind of came out of Al Qaida in Iraq,” said McGurk. “ISIL, basically, is al Qaida in Iraq. It’s leader was the al Qaida and Iraq leader since 2010. Nusra was a bit of an offshoot and is focused more on Syria. As you said, there’s now this message, which seems from [al Qaida leader] Zawahiri, saying that ISIL is no longer affiliated with Al Qaida central.”
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