Ansar al Islam (Supporters of Islam)
Ansar al Islam (Supporters of Islam) was formed in December 2001. The Sunni Islamic group is composed primarily of Kurds who follow an extremist brand of Islam, however their primary focus is opposing the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two large secular Kurdish groups that opposed Saddam Hussein with U.S. backing.
Ansar al Islam, which operates in northeastern Iraq, has close links to and support from al-Qaida. Al-Qaida and Usama Bin Laden participated in the formation and funding of the group, which has provided safehaven to al-Qaida in northeastern Iraq. The group's fighters are also believed to have trained with al-Qaida and U.S. officials suspect it of helping hide al-Qaida members fleeing Afghanistan.
The group has carried out terrorist attacks in Iraq. These include the attempted murder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister, Barham Saleh in April 2002 and the attempted assassination of General Shawkat Haji Mushir, a prominent Kurdish politican, in near the city of Halabja.
The Islamic group called the Jund al-Islam seized control of several villages near Halabja in September 2001, and established an administration governed under Shari'a. The group is alleged to have ties to the al-Qaida network and many from the group had spent time in Afghanistan while it was under the control of the Taliban. The group changed its name to Ansar al-Islam in December 2001. The group continued to control a small section of the northern part of the country along the Iranian border at the end of 2002. Local authorities claim that the group seeks to expand the area under its control by undermining the local administration, with the ultimate goal of imposing rule under Islamic law over all of the northern part of the country. The group restricted non-Islamic worship, imposed severe restrictions on public behavior, and administered all civil affairs under an extreme interpretation of Islamic laws.
On February 20, 2003, The State Department of the United States asked the UN Sanctions Commitee to addd Ansar al Islam's name to its consolidated list of entities and individuals associated with al-Qaida, the Taliban, or Usama bin Laden whose assets U.N. Member States are obligated to freeze under UN Security Council resolutions 1267, 1390, and 1455.
Mullah Krekar, the leader of the radical group Ansar Al-Islam told Rome's "La Repubblica" in an interview published on 24 August 2003 that his group was not involved in the 19 August bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, saying, "I believe that it was an operation which sprang from inside the country, and which was carried out by Saddam's diehard supporters." Krekar also denied any links to Osama bin Laden, saying, "I have never met with him, nor do I have any contacts [with him]." "Bin Laden is the jewel in the crown of Islam," he later added. In the interview, Krekar addressed the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. saying that "the killing of civilians is a wrong thing," but cautioned that such an event could happen again. "If the United States does not leave the space which belongs to Islam, this will backfire against it. Muslim countries demand the role and the laws which they have provided themselves with." Krekar claimed that the U.S. is vulnerable to another attack, saying, "The recent blackout in New York cost hundreds of millions of dollars every second. Many martyrs are ready to blow themselves up." He said that the U.K. should also expect a terrorist attack, but that the rest of Europe is safe.
It was reported that in late 2003 that Abu Abdallah al-Shafi'i (a.k.a. Warba Holiri al-Kurdi) had taken over the leadership of Ansar al Islam from Mullah Krekar, who as of June 2004 was still under house arrest in Norway. Al-Shafi'i also claimed that the name of the organization had changed from Ansar al Islam to an undisclosed name. Ansar may possibly be linked to Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG), which was led by Ali Bapir.
The US State Department officially labeled Ansar a terrorist group in March 2004, after the group took responsibility for attacks on Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters on February 1st, 2004 and the bombing of Mount Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad on March 17th, 2004. More recently, the group claims to have participated in insurgent activities in Fallujah.
AI has conducted attacks against a wide range of targets including Iraqi government and security forces, and U.S. and Coalition forces. AI has also conducted numerous kidnappings, executions, and assassinations of Iraqi citizens and politicians. One of the more notable attacks was a March 2008 bombing at the Palace Hotel in As Sulamaniyah that killed two people. The group has either claimed responsibility or was believed responsible for a total of 13 attacks in 2010 that killed 15 and wounded at least 39. On January 7, six Iraqi civilians, including a child, were killed along with one Iraqi police officer in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in al-Anbar Province, Iraq, for which AI was believed responsible. On May 17 and 18, seven Iraqi civilians died in IED attacks in Mosul and Baghdad for which AI claimed responsibility.
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