In the last two months, an organization calling itself the "Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades" and claiming to be connected to Al-Qa'ida has published a number of threats addressed at Europe in general and Italy in particular, aiming to prompt a withdrawal of European and Italian forces from Iraq.
Today it published a new statement claiming responsibility for this morning's bombing in Istanbul, and announcing that this is the first of a series of upcoming attacks in Europe.
This report will assess the veracity of these threats and address questions regarding the existence of such an organization.
Content of the 'Brigades' Threats
- On July 1, 2004, the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades published a long essay titled "The Road Map of the Mujahideen." It included, among other things, threats against European countries: "To the European people … you have but a few days left to accept the peace [ sulh ] which bin Laden has offered you. If you do not do so, you will have only yourselves to blame… Muslims who live in Western nations: those of you who can emigrate to a Muslim country should do so, and those who can not should live in areas inhabited by Muslims; [should make sure] that he and his family have provisions for the coming month and that he has means of protecting himself and his family; [he should make sure] that he has money for one month or more, and should strive to do good deeds." 
- In mid-July the "Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades in Italy" published an additional threat explicitly addressing Italy: "This is the last warning to the Italian nation. Either you get rid of the Berlusconi or else we will burn Italy down. This is a clear equation that we are presenting to you in order to clear ourselves of responsibility, for he who warns can not be blamed. You will be seeing the next message on your own territory and not on the Internet. Berlusconi is dragging you into additional bloodshed and total subservience to America… We are capable of hitting quality targets with non-conventional weapons that will cause a huge disaster. A single individual determined to sacrifice himself for a just cause equals an entire army, and September 11 is the best proof of this." 
- On July 28, 2004, the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades published another threat addressing the European governments: "Today we have declared a bloody war against you. We shall not desist from our attacks against you until you come back to your senses, after the reprieve which Sheikh Osama bin Laden has granted you - may Allah keep him - has ended … we will raze the cities of Europe to the ground and you will be first, Berlusconi! We will turn them into [cities] drenched in blood until you, the leaders of Europe and its peoples, return to your senses. Withdraw your troops from Iraq, and walk in the path of those who preceded you, lest you taste the bitter fruits of blood. Do not aid America and that pitiful Bush, commander of the infidels. If you do not do as we say, you will regret it very much, God willing." 
- On July 31, 2004, two weeks after the end of Bin Laden's reprieve which the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades had also endorsed in their own threats and which had produced no results, another statement was published by the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades addressing the Italian people and granting them a fifteen-day reprieve, during which the government of Italy should withdraw its forces from Iraq lest it be attacked: "We are calling up all our cells in Rome and other Italian cities for this war, and we are giving Silvio Berlusconi a fifteen-day reprieve to withdraw from Iraq." 
- A new statement was published on August 7, 2004 by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, in which they announced that the end of the previous reprieve is approaching: "The end of the reprieve which we set for you and your government to withdraw your forces [from Iraq] is approaching. We will see if you are wise enough to make the decision to withdraw, since if you do not do so the bloody war will come to you. We shall not stop the attacks on Rome, and you will not feel secure in your own homes. Every place will be a target after the end of the reprieve… The targets have been set already; all that is left is to reach the end of the reprieve… Our cells in Rome and in other Italian cities have made the necessary preparations. They were recruited to carry out this mission after the end of the reprieve [on August 15]. The brigades will have the last word in the depths of Italy… "[We tell] our cells in the Italian cities, in Rome, and in every place in Italy: the war is coming. We call upon all of you to fight an unyielding war against Italy after the end of the set reprieve. Prepare to attack every target you will face after the end of the reprieve. We will make Berlusconi and his ilk taste the bloody fruits that they have fed the Iraqi people, when they chose to follow the contemptible Bush and the contemptible Blair." 
- "The Europeans Region of the Brigades - the Military Wing" published a new statement on August 10, 2004, claiming responsibility for today's attacks in Turkey. The statement was titled "the coming strikes will be more violent Allah willing" and warned that the attack was one in a series of future attacks against European countries after they had rejected Bin Laden's peace of mid-March. It also promised to publish the details of the Istanbul attack. The statement mentioned repeatedly the elements quoted in the previous threats endorsing again the bin Laden reprieve but without any reference to their own ultimatum of July 31, 2004. It also promised that if only the European countries will stop following and supporting the "contemptible" George W. Bush, Al-Qa'ida will desist from attacking them. 
Assessment of the Veracity of the Threats and Questions Concerning the Existence of the Organization
In MEMRI's estimation the "Brigades'" threats lack credibility for the following reasons:
Previous False Warnings: The "Brigades" have a long history of making false claims of responsibility for acts perpetrated by other organizations and events with no connection to terrorism, such as the blackout in the Northeast of the U.S. in August 2003, the attacks on the Jewish synagogues in Istanbul in November 2003, and the Madrid bombings of March 2004. 
Lack of Valid Indications Proving the Existence of Such an Organization: Despite the high profile the organization presents in its statements claiming to engage in a wide range of activities in Iraq, Europe, and the United States, and alleging that it is structured according to geographical regions and operational departments, no operative with even a remote affiliation with such an organization has to this day been captured, and there is no information available about its leaders, such as can be found regarding leaders of other Islamist organizations even prior to their capture or killing.
The "Brigades'" Modus Operandi (in Making Threats): While in the past the "Brigades" used to take responsibility for attacks after the fact, since July 2004 they have begun publishing frequent warnings of future attacks.
In about two months they have published more threats than any other Islamist organization in a very long while. Moreover, they came to the point where they needed to deny some of the threats, claiming that they were not theirs, a phenomenon unheard of in other Islamist organizations. For example, on July 30, 2004, "the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades – Europe" published a "clarification" discounting responsibility for some of the threats published on their behalf, with the exception of the threat addressed to Italy: "In the last few days we have seen several statements attributed to The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades threatening European governments in general and the government of Italy headed by Berlusconi in particular. We wish to make clear the following points: in the last two days we have not published any statement in any Internet site and we did not circulate any threats. Our last statement was: 'Last Warning to the Italian People' [from mid-July] … and since then we have not published any threats." 
Recently the "Brigades" have established an Internet site operated by their "Communications Department." The site's address is: http://www.hostinganime.com/abu-hafs. It is weak in content, containing only the last will and testament of Abu Hafs al-Masri, who was a close associate of bin Laden and died in November 2001 in the course of an American attack in Afghanistan. Two statements of the Brigades that had been published previously during the last two months are also posted.
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The "Brigades" publishes their statements either electronically on the Internet or by way of notices sent to the press, especially to the London-based pro-Saddam and pro-bin Laden Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. In an interview with the AP news agency after the Madrid bombings the chief editor of the newspaper said that the organization's statement "was authentic." 
This method is an easy and readily available one, and makes it difficult to ascertain whether any form of an organized group is really behind it. Other unknown organizations have used this same method to publish threats in the last few days, for example the "the Muhammad Atta Brigades" and the "Battalion of Abu Baqr Al-Sidiq." 
Most of the threats of the "Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades" lack Islamist characteristics such as citations of Koranic verses and Islamic traditions that are common in Internet publications of genuine Islamist groups connected to Al-Qa'ida.
Questions Regarding the Existence of the 'Brigades'
The analysis above casts serious doubts regarding the very existence of a terrorist organization by the name of the "Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades" affiliated with Al-Qa'ida, and with the scope of activities alleged in the statements. Those behind the publications are interested in undermining the coalition in Iraq. However they seem to be nationalistic in their orientation rather than Islamist, while pretending to be affiliated with Al-Qa'ida only to gain more credibility to their threats.
* Yigal Carmon is the President of MEMRI.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 2, 2004. The full text is available at http://www.hostinganime.com/abu-hafs/
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 2, 2004.
 Regarding the claim of responsibility for the blackout see Al-Qa'ida Claims Responsibility for Last Week's Blackout, August 19, 2003, 'Al-Qa'ida Claims Responsibility for Last Week's Blackout,' Regarding the claim of responsibility for the Madrid attacks see The Alleged Al-Qa'ida Statement of Responsibility for the Madrid Bombings: Translation and Commentary, March 12, 2004, 'The Alleged Al-Qa'ida Statement of Responsibility for the Madrid Bombings: Translation and Commentary.'
 "The Muhammad Atta Brigades" published on August 8, 2004, a threat against El Salvador: "This is the last warning for El Salvador's government… Evacuate your soldiers from Iraqi soil. The continued presence of your soldiers in Iraq will present every Salvadoran [citizen] with a bloody war everywhere." See: http://www.islamic-minbar.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=515. "The Battalion of Abu Bakr Al-Sadik" was published on August 7, 2004, is a threat against El Salvador and Denmark as well: "To the people and government of El Salvador: We are requesting of you for the last time not to send forces to Iraq. Do not cast your sons into hell. Do not follow the forces of darkness and rebellion that are taking over the world. Sending your forces to Iraq is a provocation on the part of the Salvadoran people and its government against Islam and the Muslims." The threats were addressed against Denmark too: "We address this letter as the first to the government and people of Denmark. We are requesting of you to withdraw the Danish forces, as have done the Philippines, Spain, and other countries. Do not turn your country into a target for the attacks of the Mujahideen and the car-bomb brigades. Do not follow the forces of evil and darkness that are taking over the world… If you do not withdraw the forces from Iraq we promise you that all of your interests in the world will be threatened and that we will attack at the moment that we see fit and which will be decided by the Mujahideen…" See http://www.islamicminbar.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=492.