|Participant in Iraq War, Iraqi insurgency, Syrian Civil War|
The Flag of Ansar al-Islam - al Sahab
|Leaders||Mullah Krekar Former
Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i (POW)
Abu Hashim al Ibrahim
|Opponents|| Iraqi Armed Forces
Multi-National Force – Iraq
Syrian Armed Forces
Ansar al-Islam (AAI) (Supporters or Partisans of Islam) is an insurgent group active in Iraq. It was established in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2001 as a Salafist Islamist movement that imposed a strict application of Sharia in villages it controlled around Biyara to the northeast of Halabja, near the Iranian border. Following the US invasion of Iraq, the group became an insurgent group which fought against the American led forces and their Iraqi allies. The group continued to fight the Iraqi Government following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Ansar al-Islam was formed in September 2001 from a merger of Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), led by Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i, and a splinter group from the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan led by Mullah Krekar. Krekar became the leader of the merged Ansar al-Islam, which opposed an agreement made between IMK and the dominant Kurdish group in the area, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The group later made an allegiance to al-Qaeda and allegedly received direct funds from the terror network.
Ansar al-Islam initially comprised approximately 300 men, many of these veterans from the Soviet-Afghan War, and a proportion being neither Kurd nor Arab. During its stay in the Biyara region near the Iranian border, there were allegations of logistical support from "powerful factions in Iran."
Period up to the Iraq War
Villagers under Ansar al-Islam's control were subjected to harsh sharia laws; musical instruments were destroyed and singing forbidden. The only school for girls in the area was destroyed, and all pictures of women removed from merchandise labels. Sufi shrines were desecrated and members of the Kaka'i (a religious group also known as Ahl-e Haqq) were forced to convert to Islam or flee. Former prisoners of the group also claim that Ansar al-Islam routinely used torture and severe beatings when interrogating prisoners. Beheading of prisoners had also been reported.
In February 2003, prior to the US 2003 invasion of Iraq, Paramilitary teams from the Special Activities Division (SAD) and the Army's 10th Special Forces Group entered Iraq and cooperated with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Peshmerga to attack Ansar al-Islam. It resulted in the deaths of a substantial number of militants and the uncovering of a chemical weapons facility at Sargat. Sargat was the only facility of its type discovered in Iraq.
The Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq concluded that Saddam "was aware of Ansar al-Islam and al-Qaeda presence in northeastern Iraq, but the groups' presence was considered a threat to the regime and the Iraqi government attempted intelligence collection operations against them. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) stated that information from senior Ansar al-Islam detainees revealed that the group viewed Saddam's regime as apostate, and denied any relationship with it." The leader of Ansar al-Islam, Mullah Krekar, has also called Saddam Hussein his sworn enemy.
Furthermore, in a "Special Analysis" report dated July 31, 2002, the (DIA) concluded the following regarding alleged connections between Saddam's regime and Ansar al-Islam:
"Should regime support to Ansar al-Islam be proven, this will not necessarily implicate the regime in supporting al-Qaeda. Ansar al-Islam is an independent organization that receives assistance from al-Qaeda, but is not a branch of the group. The Iraqi regime seeks to influence and manipulate political events in the Kurdish-controlled north and probably has some type of assets in contact with Ansar al-Islam, either through liaison or through penetration by an intelligence asset."
However, in February 2003, then United States Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council, "Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organization, Ansar al-Islam, that controls this corner of Iraq. In 2000 this agent offered Al Qaida safe haven in the region. After we swept Al Qaida from Afghanistan, some of its members accepted this safe haven." The general consensus of experts, as well as the conclusion of the intelligence community and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is that Saddam was infiltrating the group but that the two parties remained hostile to each other and did not establish a collaborative relationship.
Colin Powell has since acknowledged that his speech presented no hard evidence of collaboration between Saddam and al-Qaeda; he told reporters at a State Department press conference that "I have not seen smoking gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I do believe the connections existed." However, after Powell left office, he acknowledged that he was skeptical of the evidence presented to him for the speech. He told Barbara Walters in an interview that he considered the speech a "blot" on his record and that he feels "terrible" about assertions that he made in the speech that turned out to be false. He said, "There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me." When asked specifically about a Saddam/al-Qaeda connection, Powell responded, "I have never seen a connection. … I can't think otherwise because I'd never seen evidence to suggest there was one."
Designation as a terrorist organization
On 27 March 2003, the Australian government added Ansar al-Islam to its list of banned terrorist organizations and relisted it several times due to its name changes.
On 17 May 2004, the Canadian government also added Ansar al-Islam to its list of banned terrorist groups.
In September 2003, members of Ansar al-Islam who had fled to Iran after the 2003 joint operation by Iraqi and US forces against them announced the creation of a group called Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna, which was dedicated to expelling U.S. occupation forces from Iraq. Ansar al-Sunna became a prominent insurgent group active in the so-called Sunni Triangle, carrying out kidnappings, suicide bombings and guerilla attacks.
On May 4, 2010 Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i, Ansar al-Islam's leader since Mullah Krekar left for Norway in 2003, was captured by US forces in Baghdad. On December 15, 2011 Ansar al-Islam announced a new emir, Sheikh Abu Hashim al Ibrahim
Syrian Civil War involvement
Claimed and Alleged Attacks
Ansar al-Islam detonated a suicide car bomb on March 22, 2003, killing Australian journalist Paul Moran and several others. The group is also thought to have been responsible for a September 9, 2003 attempted bombing of a United States Department of Defense office in Arbil, which killed three people.
On February 1, 2004 suicide bombings hit parallel Eid-celebrations arranged by the two main Kurdish parties, PUK and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP), in the Kurdish capital of Arbil, killing 109 and wounding more than 200 partygoers. Responsibility for this attack was claimed by the then unknown group Ansar al-Sunnah, and stated to be in support of "our brothers in Ansar al-Islam."
In November 2008 an archbishop in Mosul received a threat signed by the "ansar al-islam brigades", warning all Christians to leave Iraq or else be killed.
Swedish fund-raising case
Ali Berzengi and Ferman Abdulla, the owner of a falafel stand in Stockholm, raised money for what they claimed was poor children and Muslims. The money was then transferred through Abdulla's food stand, using the hawala transfer system. The Swedish Security Service was informed in 2002 that people in Sweden had transferred money to Ansar al-Islam. On April 19, 2004, Berzengi and Abdulla were arrested along with another Iraqi, Shaho Shahab, and Lebanese-born Bilal Ramadan. Ramadan was released in September after a court found that there wasn't enough evidence to keep him in custody. Shahab was released in December after the government decided to deport him to Iraq. However, since Shahab risks receiving the death penalty in his home country, the deportation has not been carried out. In Abdulla's apartment the police found a letter from a man who claimed to have been in contact with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, as well as a detailed manual on how to use coded language.
On May 12, 2005, Abdulla and Berzengi were convicted by the Stockholm District Court for "planning of terrorist offences" (Swedish: förberedelse till terroristbrott) and "planning of public devastation" (Swedish: förberedelse till allmänfarlig ödeläggelse) according to Swedish law. Accord to the court they had transferred approximately one million SEK to Ansar al-Islam. According to the court there was strong evidence that the collected money had the specific purpose of financing terrorist attacks. Much of the evidence presented consisted of secret wire-tappings from U.S. and German intelligence sources. In the recordings Abdulla and Berzengi used coded language to describe the attacks. Berzengi, who according to the court was the leading of the two, was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment and Abdulla to six years. The Svea Court of Appeal later reduced the sentences to five years for Berzengi and four and a half year for Abdulla. The appeal to the Supreme Court was denied. The both are also to be deported back to Iraq after serving their sentences in Sweden. Abdulla is currently serving his sentence at the Norrköping Prison.
The conviction of Berzengi and Abdulla was the first since the new Swedish terrorism legislation was taken into effect on July 1, 2003. It was also the first ever conviction in Western Europe of people financing terrorism.
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