In April 2015, the son of a New Jersey pizza shop owner left the United States. His destination was an Islamic State training camp in Syria. Shortly after arriving, he allegedly emerged in a video posted to social media, beheading Kurdish fighters captured by ISIS. Now, Zulfi Hoxha may be in command of ISIS fighters in the country.
How Islamic State fighters survive the onslaught from American, Kurdish, Syrian, Russian, Iranian, and/or Turkish forces is baffling to many, but Zulfi Hoxha has managed to stay alive through it all, even after the fall of the ISIS capital at Raqqa and the subsequent collapse of the terrorist “caliphate.”
Hoxha now goes by the name Abu Hamza al-Amriki, the last being a nod to his country of origin. He’s been seen in a number of pro-ISIS jihadist propaganda videos, doing everything from encouraging “lone wolf” attacks in the United States to actually beheading enemy soldiers captured in combat. At just 26, he’s being touted as one of the most dangerous recruiting tools of the declining Islamic State.
“We used to joke around like, ‘We know you can’t stand us Americans.’ And he would laugh like, haha, ‘Yeah, we can’t stand you Americans,'” former coworker Joseph Cacia told Philadelphia’s NBC10. “But you didn’t think he was serious. You thought he was playing along.”
Only a few dozen Americans have left the U.S. to join international terrorist organizations. Hoxha is significant in that he is now a major propaganda star and is featured as a senior commander of the Islamic State forces. But since the apogee of ISIS’ rise to power in 2014, the group has lost the kind of success that would attract followers like Hoxha.
Having graduated from an Atlantic City, N.J., high school in 2010, youth like Hoxha saw ISIS in control of some 34,000 square miles of territory cut out of Iraq and Syria – a territory roughly the size of Maine. In the years since, the group has lost most of that territory, along with the prestige, money, and followers that kind of success attracts. In previous years, ISIS members like Hoxha were propaganda stars on social media, but after the worldwide effort to curb ISIS recruiting, jihadists are more likely to be found on dark websites than on Twitter.
Hoxha has had minimal contact with former friends and family back in New Jersey. He sent a message to one friend shortly after leaving the United States to tell him that he had arrived in “the Safe House.” He also told his mother that he was going to be training for three months. Now he is one of just a few Americans who rose to a leadership position in the Islamic State and other jihadist organizations.
Many of the others are dead, most killed by U.S. airstrikes.
Pentagon identifies operators killed from embattled Special Forces unit in Afghanistan
Two Americans, a special operations soldier and an explosive ordnance disposal specialist on his first overseas deployment, were killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan on Friday amid volatile U.S.-Taliban peace talks and an alienated Afghan government.
Sergeant First Class William D. Lindsay, 34, from Cortez, Colorado, and Specialist Joseph “Joey” P. Collette, 29, from Lancaster, Ohio, were killed by small-arms fire during a joint operation between U.S. Army Green Berets and Afghan special forces soldiers in northern Kunduz Province. Four Afghan commandos were also killed, according to The New York Times.
Another special forces soldier, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Chris, whose last name is being withheld, was wounded during the firefight. He is listed in stable condition and was able to notify his family personally of his injury. Chris will be evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for follow-on treatment, Newsweek reported on Friday afternoon.
Two additional U.S. service members were also wounded from the same incident. We will not publish their names at this time, but both soldiers are expected to recover after being medically evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and then on to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
U.S. Army special forces teams, known as Operational Detachment Alphas, set out on a joint mission with soldiers from the Afghan National Army Commando Corps, the special forces arm of the regular army to raid a residential area in search of a high-value individual within the Gul Tepa District of Kunduz. Combat raids are typical missions for both American and Afghan troops as negotiations continue to draw the war to a close, said two Defense Department sources who asked not to be named due to Pentagon media regulations.
Unlike the rural, tribal regions of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, Kunduz is a bustling urban city, the sixth largest in Afghanistan with a population of more than 268,000, according to a 2015 United Nations reports.
Intelligence suggested Taliban fighters were not supposed to be in the area when the gun battle broke out, and because the special forces soldiers were in a residential area, no air support was provided, said the sources. The U.S. military sources said they believe the Taliban was tipped off and had set up an ambush for the American and Afghan forces.
More details can be found here.
Five British Special Forces operators wounded in Yemen
At least five British Special Forces commandos have been wounded in gun battles as part of a top-secret UK military campaign in Yemen, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The elite Special Boat Service (SBS) troops, whose presence in the war-ravaged country is shrouded in secrecy, suffered gunshot injuries in fierce clashes with Iranian-backed rebel militia in recent months. The SBS men were treated for leg and arm wounds following the battles in the Sa’dah area of northern Yemen, where up to 30 crack British troops are based. The casualties are understood to be now recovering in the UK.
The revelation that British forces are fighting in Yemen sparked angry criticism last night because the conflict, which has seen Saudi Arabia and Iran support opposing sides in a four-year civil war, has triggered the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
Aid agencies have pleaded for a ceasefire to be negotiated to enable charities to help eight million Yemenis facing starvation and two million rendered homeless. An estimated 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
The Mail on Sunday can also reveal how RAF engineers sent to Saudi Arabia to repair the kingdom’s fleet of military aircraft narrowly escaped death last week. Iranian-backed rebels launched a ‘suicide drone’ strike on the King Khalid airbase, where they are maintaining Tornado jets used to bomb civilian areas in Yemen.
According to reports, the drone exploded on the runway, destroying two Tornados. The MoD said no UK personnel were wounded.
An SBS source said: ‘The guys are fighting in an inhospitable desert and mountainous terrain against highly committed and well-equipped Houthi rebels. The SBS’s role is mainly training and mentoring but on occasions, they have found themselves in firefights and some British troops have been shot.
‘In a contact a few weeks ago, an SBS guy was shot in the hand and another guy was shot in the leg. Their injuries were a reminder that this is a very dangerous assignment. Obviously, nothing about the mission will be confirmed publicly by the Ministry of Defence unless a UK soldier is killed – they’d have to announce that.’
The SBS mentoring teams inside Yemen include medics, translators and Forward Air Controllers (FACs), whose job is to request air support from the Saudis.
The 200-strong SBS, which is based at Poole in Dorset, is a maritime Special Forces unit and was founded in 1940. It recruits mainly from the Royal Marines. SBS personnel served with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently in operations against Islamic State in Syria.