Al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions

Al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions (AQKB) is a Kurdish, Salafist militant organization affiliated with Al Qaeda (AQ) that operates in Iraqi Kurdistan.

AT A GLANCE

Overview

Brief Summary of the Organization's History.

Organization

How does a group organize? Who leads it? How does it finance operations?

Strategy

How does a group fight? What are its aims and ideologies? What are some of its major attacks?

Major Attacks

What are the group's most famous attacks? What are some key attacks in the group's evolution?

Interactions

What is the group's relationship with the community? How does it interact with other groups?

Maps

What is the group's relationship with other militants over time?

Key Statistics:

2007 First Recorded Activity:
2007 First Attack:
2010 Last Recorded Activity:

Contact

Send a message to the Mapping Militants team.

How to Cite:

Mapping Militant Organizations. "Al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions." Stanford University. Last modified March 2017. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/al-qaeda-kurdish-battalions

Overview

Brief History

    Overview
  • Overview
  • Narrative

Overview

Formed2000
DisbandedJanuary 2009
First AttackOctober 12, 2000: AQY attacked the USS Cole using a boat filled with explosives in Aden, Yemen. (17 killed, 35 wounded)
Last AttackMarch 15, 2009: A suicide bomber attacked a group of South Korean tourists, killing six of the tourists and two of their Yemeni tour guides in Shibam. (8 killed, unknown wounded) 
UpdatedJuly 8, 2015

 

Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQY) was the Yemeni affiliate of Al Qaeda, formed in 2000. AQY attacked the Yemeni government and Western targets in the country. In 2009, the group merged with its Saudi counterpart under the umbrella of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Narrative

Al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions (AQKB) is a Kurdish, Salafist militant organization affiliated with Al Qaeda (AQ) that operates in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Al Qaeda announced AQKB’s formation in a video entitled “Back to the Mountains,” which it released in March 2007.[i] The video called upon Iraq’s Kurdish population to turn against its political leaders, whom AQ deems traitors to Islam because of their secular ideology.  AQKB’s membership is believed to be primarily composed of former members of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK).[ii]

There are several competing theories about the impetus behind AQKB’s formation.  Some analysts believe that when the 2007 U.S. surge and Sunni Awakening expelled Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) from southern and central Iraq, AQ leadership turned its attention to establishing a new foothold in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Although AQ had historically attracted little support among Iraq’s Kurds because of their largely secular-nationalist beliefs and the strength of their security forces, the strong U.S. presence in the center and south of the country left AQ with few other options.  Other sources pin the emergence on the group on the 2007 referendum on the future of Kirkuk.  Many Islamist groups were, at the time, attempting to gain support in Northern Iraq in order to thwart a vote in the referendum that would bring Kirkuk under the authority of the KRG.  Still others believe that AQ established AQKB in response to the Kurdish peshmerga’s decision to participate in the U.S.-backed Baghdad Security Plan.

From 2007 through 2010, AQKB perpetrated a series of attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan.[iii]  AQKB primarily targeted secular Kurdish parties in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), namely the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).[iv]  Among its most notorious attacks were its May 2007 bombing of the Kurdistan Interior and Security Ministries building in which 19 people were killed and its July 2007 attack on Kurdish border security forces in Penjwin, Iraq in which eight Kurdish soldiers were killed.[v]

After 2010, the group largely faded into obscurity, and there is little verifiable information about its current activities.  Although it was initially aligned with AQI and was a member of its umbrella organization, the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), AQKB released a statement in April 2014 in which it denounced AQI’s successor organization, the Islamic State (IS). Some reports suggest that AQKB militants are fighting IS alongside the KDP and PUK in northern Iraq. However, such reports have not been verified.[vi]



[i] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.; Roggio, Bill. “’Al Qaeda in Kurdistan’ Breaks ranks with ISIS over Syria.” The Longwar Journal, 1 May 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015

[ii] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

[iii] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

[iv] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.  

[v] "US brands al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions 'terrorist'." Reuters, Date unknown. We. 27 July 2012.; "US Names al Qaeda-linked Outfit as Terrorist Entity." DaijiWorld, 6 January 2012. Web. 27 July 2012.

[vi] Taylor, Scott. “Flying Blind on ISIS.” NOW, 25 March 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.; “We should not champion individual volunteers fighting with foreign forces.” Espritdecorps, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.; Roggio, Bill. “’Al Qaeda in Kurdistan’ Breaks ranks with ISIS over Syria.” The Longwar Journal, 1 May 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Abdallah Hassan al-Surani (2007-unknown)
  • Dilshad Kalari (unknown to unknown)

Leadership

Very little is known about the leadership of AQKB.  The group has pledged its allegiance to AQ central leadership and is believed to take orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of AQ.[i]

 



[i]Roggio, Bill. “’Al Qaeda in Kurdistan’ Breaks ranks with ISIS over Syria.” The Longwar Journal, 1 May 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.; Van Wilgenburg, Wladimir. “Iraqi Kurdistan Hit by First Suicide Bombing in Six Years.” Al-Monitor, 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Abdallah Hassan al-Surani (2007-unknown)

Surani has released public statements of behalf of AQKB and is believed to be the group’s official spokesman.[i]



[i]Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Dilshad Kalari (unknown to unknown)

Very little is known about Kalari although some sources believe him to be the operational leader of AQKB.[i]



[i]Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

    Name Changes
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Name Changes

There are no recorded name changes for this group.

Size Estimates

AQBK is thought to be relatively weak and small in numbers.[i]



[i] “US Designates Kurdish Group Terrorists.” Rudaw, 15 Jan. 2012. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Resources

AQKB’s resources and benefactors are largely unknown. However, given the group’s close affiliation with Al-Qaeda, it is likely it has received funds from AQ central leadership.[i] There has also been some speculation that the group has received funds from Western sources, particularly Canada, since taking up arms against the Islamic State in 2014; AQKB nevertheless remains designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the Canadian government.[ii]



[i] Roggio, Bill. "US adds Al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions to list of terrorist groups." January 5, 2012. http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/01/us_adds_al_qaeda_kur.php. Accessed July 27, 2012.; Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015. 

[ii] Taylor, Scott. “Flying Blind on ISIS.” NOW, 25 March 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.; “We should not champion individual volunteers fighting with foreign forces.” Espritdecorps, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences.

AQKB is based primarily in Iraqi Kurdistan along the Iran-Iraq border, although some reports suggest that the group may have bases in the Iranian towns of Mariwan and Sanandej. In the past, the group’s members have also occasionally traveled farther south into Iraq to coordinate with AQI.[i] There is also evidence that AQKB members traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to receive training, most likely from AQ operatives, on how to conduct chemical weapons attacks.[ii]



[i] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.; Hawkins, Scott. “Transcript of Al-Qaeda Kurdish Battallion.” Prezi, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.

[ii] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

  • Sunni
  • Salafist
  • Jihadi

AQKB shares Al Qaeda’s ideology and goals; it is a sunni jihadist organization that seeks to implement Shariah Law and establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.[i]



[i] Hawkins, Scott. “Transcript of Al-Qaeda Kurdish Battallion.” Prezi, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.; "US brands al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions 'terrorist'." Reuters, Date unknown. We. 27 July 2012.; "US Names al Qaeda-linked Outfit as Terrorist Entity." DaijiWorld, 6 January 2012. Web. 27 July 2012.

 

Political Activities

There are no recorded political activities for this group.

Targets and Tactics

Although AQKB has only perpetrated a handful of attacks since its formation in 2007, when it has carried out acts of terrorism it has most often used suicide and car bombings.  However, there is also evidence that AQKB sought to carry out chemical weapons attacks and sent several of its members to Afghanistan and Pakistan to receive training with chemical weapons.  The group allegedly sought to use an unmanned aircraft to carry out chemical attacks and blow up the Qaragul Bridge in the Sulaymaniyah province.  Other forms of chemical attacks planned by AQKB included wiping the handles of cars used to transport Kurdish politicians with deadly poisons.[i] There is no evidence that AQKB was ever put its plans to utilize chemical weapons into action.

AQKB’s primary targets have included Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) buildings, troops, and employees in addition to non-Sunni religious groups, namely the Yazidis.[ii] The group’s most notable attack was a truck bombing of the building of the Kurdish Ministries of the Interior and Security in Iraq, killing 19 people.[iii] Reports also surfaced in 2014 that AQKB was fighting alongside other Kurdish groups against the Islamic State (IS).[iv]



[i] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

[ii] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

[iii] “US Names al Qaeda-linked Outfit as Terrorist Entity." DaijiWorld, 6 January 2012. Web. 27 July 27, 2012.

[iv] Taylor, Scott. “Flying Blind on ISIS.” NOW, 25 March 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.; “We should not champion individual volunteers fighting with foreign forces.” Espritdecorps, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.; Roggio, Bill. “’Al Qaeda in Kurdistan’ Breaks ranks with ISIS over Syria.” The Longwar Journal, 1 May 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks

Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization's history. It is not a comprehensive listing, but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

September 2010: Several AQKB militants were arrested after the Kurdish security forces foiled an AQKB suicide bomb attack in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. (0 killed, 2 wounded)[i]         

July 2007: AQKB operatives ambushed and killed seven border guards and another security force member in Penjwin, Iraq. (8 killed, unknown wounded)[ii]

May 2007: AQKB militants claimed responsibility for a car bomb that was detonated at the Kurdistan Interior and Security Ministries building, killing 19 civilians. (19 killed, unknown wounded)[iii]  

 


[i] "US Names al Qaeda-linked Outfit as Terrorist Entity." DaijiWorld, 6 January 2012. Web. 27 July 27, 2012.                         

[ii] "US brands al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions 'terrorist'." Reuters, Date unknown. Web. 27 July 2012.               

[iii] "US Names al Qaeda-linked Outfit as Terrorist Entity." DaijiWorld, 6 January 2012. Web. 27 July 27, 2012.     

 

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

    Designated/Listed
  • Designated/Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relations with Other Groups
  • State Sponsors and External Influences

Designated/Listed

  • U.S. State Department Foreign Terrorist Organizations, January 1, 2012 to Present[i]
  • AQKB is also designated as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government.[ii]

 


[i] Roggio, Bill. "US adds Al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions to list of terrorist groups." January 5, 2012. Web. July 27, 2012.

[ii] Taylor, Scott. “Flying Blind on ISIS.” NOW, 25 March 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.; “We should not champion individual volunteers fighting with foreign forces.” Espritdecorps, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Community Relations

AQKB’s extreme Islamist ideology and terrorist tactics have rendered the group highly unpopular among Iraq’s predominantly secular and nationalist Kurdish population.[i]



[i] Khalil, Lydia. “The Kurdish Brigades: Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish Henchmen.”  The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Focus 4(14), 18 May 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Relations with Other Groups

AQKB is an affiliate of Al Qaeda and has sworn allegiance to both Aymenn al-Zawahiri and former AQI leader, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi. The group was also a member of the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella organization founded by AQI.[i] However, AQKB released a statement in April 2014 making clear its opposition to AQI’s successor organization, the Islamic State (IS).  There are even reports that AQKB has actively fought against IS in northern Iraq.[ii]

AQKB’s traditional enemies are the secular Kurdish organizations that participate in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), namely the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The majority of the group’s attacks have been aimed at Kurdish government forces.[iii]



[i] Roggio, Bill. “’Al Qaeda in Kurdistan’ Breaks ranks with ISIS over Syria.” The Longwar Journal, 1 May 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.; Van Wilgenburg, Wladimir. “Iraqi Kurdistan Hit by First Suicide Bombing in Six Years.” Al-Monitor, 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

[ii] “We should not champion individual volunteers fighting with foreign forces.” Espritdecorps, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.; Taylor, Scott. “Flying Blind on ISIS.” NOW, 25 March 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.

[iii] Hawkins, Scott. “Transcript of Al-Qaeda Kurdish Battallion.” Prezi, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.; "US brands al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions 'terrorist'." Reuters, Date unknown. We. 27 July 2012.; "US Names al Qaeda-linked Outfit as Terrorist Entity." DaijiWorld, 6 January 2012. Web. 27 July 27, 2012.; "US brands al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions 'terrorist'." Reuters, Date unknown. Web. 27 July 2012.

 

State Sponsors and External Influences

AQKB allegedly maintained bases in the Iranian towns of Mariwan and Sanandej, suggesting that the Iranian government at least tacitly tolerated the group.[i] There has also been some speculation that the group has received funds from Western sources, particularly Canada, since taking up arms against the Islamic State in 2014; AQKB nevertheless remains designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the Canadian government.[ii]



[i] “US Designates Kurdish Group Terrorists.” Rudaw, 15 Jan. 2012. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

[ii] Taylor, Scott. “Flying Blind on ISIS.” NOW, 25 March 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.; “We should not champion individual volunteers fighting with foreign forces.” Espritdecorps, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

 

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that "map" relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.

AT A GLANCE

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Last updated March 2017