A key question in the Stockholm investigation is whether Taymour Abdalwahhab was acting on behalf of the al-Qaida linked group “Islamic State in Iraq”. The question matters because if he was, then ISI is targeting Europe and can be expected to send more bombers.
First, let me stress that “acting on behalf of” means someting more than simply “training with”. Given Taymour’s Iraqi background, his recent trips to Jordan (and possibly Syria), and his own claim of having been to the Middle East for jihad, we can pretty much assume that he trained with Islamist militants in Iraq. What we are trying to find out is whether he was dispatched by ISI – i.e. whether the plot was initiated, directed and resourced by senior ISI operatives – or whether he simply attended a camp and then acted independently, in a manner comparable to Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.
There is some concrete evidence in favour of Taimour having a close ISI connection:
- The photomontage on the Hanain forum presenting Taymour as “One of the knights [fursan] of the Islamic State of Iraq”
- Taymour’s reference to “the Islamic State” in his martyrdom will
- Taymour’s reference, in the same will, to having been a mujahid for “four years”
There is also some circumstantial evidence:
- ISI leader Abu Umar al-Baghadi’s September 2007 statement calling for attacks in Sweden as punishment for the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad
- The past involvement of other Swedish Muslims in ISI and its predecessors (see Brian Fishman’s excellent piece for details)
A more debatable piece of evidence is the early identification of Taimour Abdalwahhab on the Shumukh forum by a writer using the alias “Abu Sulayman al-Nasir.” As Aaron, Ibn Siqilli and Garbi point out in the comments to my previous post, the alias bears a striking similarity to the name of ISI’s War Minister Abu Sulayman al-Nasir li-DIn Allah. Could they be the same person? Personally I am sceptical. It is extremely rare (though admittedly not unheard of) for senior activists to use their real names on forums. Moreover, Abu Sulayman the forum writer has also issued audio statements threatening NATO. Why would ISI’s War Minister issue “rogue” statements outside of ISI highly streamlined propaganda framework?
On the other hand there is weighty evidence against Taimour acting on behalf of ISI:
- The absence of a claim of responsibility from ISI proper, despite ISI being perhaps the world’s largest producer of jihadi propaganda
- The absence of a post-attack martyrdom video, which is what groups with media wings tend to produce
- The near absence of past ISI-directed plots in Europe. AQI was admittedly linked to the 2007 Glasgow and London attacks but the nature of those links have never been elucidated. Why would ISI conduct its first (or one of its first) major European attack in Sweden? Why not use Taymour to strike in Britain, a country that actually participated in the Iraq invasion and the country in which Taymour resided?
Of course it is still early, and an ISI claim or video could appear any time. However, in the absence of such documents, I lean toward the view that Taymour trained with Islamist militants in Iraq, but was not on an ISI-directed mission. I share Aaron’s view that the case most resembles that of Faisal Shahzad, who trained in Pakistan but did most of the planning and organization himself.
This does not preclude the possibility that Taymour had a handful of helpers, in Sweden and/or in Britain. On this note, there is an interesting report in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet quoting the previous owner of the bombing vehicle as saying Taymour came to buy the car together with another man. The other man was a bit shorter, aged 45-50 and did not say very much.
A number questions remain, notably:
- Who is the mystery man who came to buy the car with Taymour?
- Is there a second person coughing on Taymour’s audio recording?
- Why did Taymour choose to attack in Sweden when he lived in the UK?
- Is it a coincidence that Taymour lived three streets away from Muhammad Qayum Khan?
- Where exactly in the Middle East did Taymour travel between 2006 and 2010?
- If ISI trained him, why are they not taking some form of credit?
- If Taymour left a written message for his wife two weeks before the bombing, why does his wife say she didn’t know anything?
[PS: I am still unable to print forum posts to PDF, but I will do so as soon as I can]
Excellent analysis, Thomas! Just one addition: Abu Sulaiman Nasir explicitly denied being the ISI war minister of similar name. He didn’t add any details about himself though, unfortunately…
The proximity to Mohammed Quayum Khan may or may not be significant. There are similar strange clusters of radicals in parts of East London, Manchester or the Midlands. Some may be connected, but sometimes it might just be a coincidence. I would say the bigger point is that Luton has always been a pretty radical place and apparently that has not much changed.
Mr Hegghammer, thanks for an interesting blog. I would like to turn your attention to the fact that the user Abu Suleiman al-Nasir repeatedly has written about the ISI war minister – al-Nasir Lideen Abu Suleiman. So I share your view that they are hardly the same person.
This is just one example:
There are more, as recent as days before the bombing took place. Misplaced that particular link.
I was just reminded that Abu Sulayman al Nasir has been issuing threats to Sweden before. On March 10, on the al-Faloja forum, he demanded that Sweden should apologise for Lars Vilks’ art, or become a target.
Full text here:
As far as a second person “coughing” I have sent this upstream for translation of the Arabic. I understand the gist of it, but am not fluent. It is noted to be Al-Abdaly on a forum post. After the first “cough” the additional noises sound more artificial than biologically-based.