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The Clear Banner: Belgian Fighters In Syria and Iraq – November 2014

NOTE: For prior parts in the Clear Banner series you can view an archive of it all here. Also for earlier updates on Belgian foreign fighters see: September 2013, January 2014 I and II, and May 2014.

Belgian Fighters In Syria and Iraq – November 2014

By Pieter Van Ostaeyen

 

Some demographics:

Islam is the largest minority religion in Belgium, it is estimated that about 6% (about 630.000 people) of Belgium’s total population are Muslims. In the 1960’s, when Belgium still was recovering from the total devastation of World War II, the country invited thousands of Moroccan and Turkish immigrants to work in the heavy industry which at that time dominated the Belgian economy. Most of these unschooled people had relatively well-paid jobs in the steel industry or coal mines. The guest-worker program was abolished in 1974, yet a lot of these people stayed in Belgium and brought in their families taking use of the family reunification laws. Today the Muslim population keeps on growing due to marriage migrations.

In 1974 Islam was officially recognized by the Belgian government as a subsidized religion; from 1996 onwards the Belgian Muslim community has been represented by the Muslim Executive of Belgium.1 Although this first generation of Muslims seems to have integrated quite well in Belgium, this surely doesn’t stand for their children and grandchildren. Cities like Antwerp, Mechelen, Vilvoorde, and Brussels now have important minorities of descendants of these guest-worker immigrants. As such one would say this isn’t problematic at all, taking into respect on how their parents and grandparents managed to build a career and family.

However, in the 1980’s and 1990’s Belgium started facing increasing problems and mishaps with its Muslim immigrant community. Cities like Mechelen in the 1990’s were known as hubs of petty theft and drug dealing (especially by Moroccan Berbers dealing hashish). More and more of these youngsters were cruising the city with expensive cars like BMW’s and Mercedes’s. It was commonly known these cars were paid with drug-money. At that time, the city of Mechelen was referred to as ‘Chicago at the river Dijle’2, due to its extreme crime rates. Other Flemish cities were facing the same problem. In Antwerp the district of Borgerhout was known as Borgerokko because of its high amount of inhabitants from Maghrebi origin. Brussels, Belgium’s capital, had entire no-go zones. It is in this climate of fear and mutual mistrust that extreme right wing parties like Vlaams Blok (now Vlaams Belang) thrived. On the federal elections of Sunday November 24th, 1991, out of the blue Vlaams Blok gained around 6.5 % of the votes. The tone of voice was set for the years to come; using slogans like ‘adapt or get lost’, Vlaams Blok profited highly from the general mistrust amongst the Belgian public towards the Muslim community.

In the course of the next few years Vlaams Blok started building up its anti-Islamic theme, criticizing Muslims on head scarves, the slaughter of sheep on ‘Eid festivities and the fact they didn’t manage to integrate in our society. They easily disregarded the fact it was mainly because of political parties and narratives as their own that the Muslim society in Belgium had little or no chance to assimilate or let alone integrate. In the course of the next few years Vlaams Blok was forbidden and reappeared as Vlaams Belang. As such the name was dropped but the rhetoric remained the same; intolerance and latent racism in Flanders grew steadily.

It should be noted that well before Belgium was confronted with its huge amount of fighters engaged in the war in Syria (and later Iraq), the country already was a main supplier of Jihadist Fighters. On September 10th, 2001, the suicide attack on Ahmed Shah Masoud, leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan was conducted by a Belgian Muslim. And even before 9/11 Belgians played a quite important role in international Jihad. Several Belgians were engaged in GICM (Groupe Islamiste Combattante Marrocaine) and GIA. Shaykh Bassam al-Ayashi, the oldest Belgian fighter in Syria, who once was suspected to be a main al-Qaeda recruiter now is leading his own little branch of Suqur as-Sham in Northern Syria.

As one of the main reasons for all, these Belgians involved all refer to the Belgian policy on its inaptitude to integrate the Muslims in our democratic society. These guys don’t see us as being democratic; they rather see how Muslims are being oppressed on what they consider to be their basic rights. The fact that Belgium forbad the face-veil or Niqab, headscarves are forbidden in schools and in public service, next year private Halal-slaughter will no longer be allowed, and so on. It is a message even confirmed by Sharia4Belgium’s spokesman Fouad Belkacem. In a statement he recently published from prison, he states: If I look back upon these days I think about the arrogance and the deep-rooted islamophobia of the Belgian State […] The head-scarf ban in 2009 hit us like an atom bomb […] For almost 50 years we saw humiliated Muslims beg for basic rights […].3

It is in reaction to these general sentiments that Sharia4Belgium was founded on March 3 2010. The group was inspired by other European Salafi groups that already existed such as Islam4UK, at that time led by the radical Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary. In its founding notes Islam4UK stated: [the group was] established by sincere Muslims as a platform to propagate the supreme Islamic ideology within the United Kingdom as a divine alternative to man-made law, and to convince the British public about the superiority of Islam [...] thereby changing public opinion in favor of Islam in order to transfer the authority and power [...] to the Muslims in order to implement the Shari’a (in Britain).4 A very similar discourse was spreading among radical Muslims in Belgium. As such, Sharia4Belgium copied a lot of the rhetoric of Anjem Choudary and other inspiring leaders of Islam4UK. Sharia4Belgium denounced democracy and stated it wanted to introduce the Shari’a in Belgium.

Fouad Belkacem explains in his statement who is leaving for Jihad in Syria:

A. The Migrants for the case of Allah. These believers seek to please Allah wherever possible. They believe that the highest value after worshipping the unity of Allah is the blessed Jihad. Jihad doesn’t mean Holy War, this term stems from Christianity and its Crusades. May Allah give this brothers what they seek.

B. The Migrants against suppression. They are the ones who left because of the injustice they daily lived in Belgium. A lot of practicing Muslims every day feel the injustice from the government and society.

C. A new live, a new beginning. A lot left for Syria to start a new life. The fact that a lot of youngsters prefer to live under bombs than in “hospitable, warm Flanders” as such is another proof against the government. Everything seems better than Belgium.

D. Sense of justice. The last group is that of the pious Muslims who could no longer bear the injustice done to their brothers. They want to contribute, how futile it may be.5

This general resentment against Belgiums policy against its Muslim community is also confirmed by the Belgian researcher Montasser AlDe’emeh. In the Belgian weekly Knack of September 23, 2014, Montasser published part of his interviews with a Belgian Islamic State fighter:

In Belgium daily they make new laws against Muslims. A Niqab ban, a headscarf ban and soon maybe a ban on beards and some Mosques? Why can’t our sisters wear a headscarf? […]Politicians, teachers at school, people at work, they always said ‘Adapt or get lost.’ If I do not want to adapt to the Belgian society, than I can get lost to Syria no?6

The networks and numbers:

Apart from the role of Sharia4Belgium (which will become crystal clear once we discuss the number of Belgians in Syria and their group affiliation), we also saw the rise of smaller networks. One of these is Resto du Tawhid, an organization led by the Belgian convert Jean-Louis Denis, surnamed Le Soumis. Resto du Tawhid was active around the railway station of Brussels North; distributing food aid amongst the needy Muslims. However early April 2013 it became clear that Resto du Tawhid wasn’t just about charity. When two 16 year old boys from the athenaeum Fernand Blum in the city of Vilvoorde left for Jihad in Syria; Jean-Louis Denis was arrested and questioned for recruiting them. In a reaction he said: Ce n’est pas moi qui fais cet appel. C’est Allah qui appelle à défendre la veuve et l’orphelin. Comme il nous appelle tous les samedis à aider les pauvres. [...] Ce sont des ordres d’Allah.7 After the arrest of Denis, the Group just continued its activities online as if nothing ever happened.

Apart from the known networks the Belgian fighters in Syria do give a helping hand to those who still want to join the Jihad in Syria and Iraq. On his facebook-account a Belgian fighter posted quite detailed instructions on how to reach Syria; ‘Don’t behave like warriors,’ he said, ‘but like tourists.’ Here is an excerpt from his instructions:

Bismilahi Rahmani Rahim

Message to all those who want to come…

1) Rumours that the borders are closed are completely false.
2) Take as little luggage as possible with you. Maximum one or two large pieces each. Try to take something that is easy to carry. Nothing without handles – LOL
3) Crossing the border is done by foot. It’s about 200 metres and it is quiet.
4) For the sisters it is necessary to avoid the niqab. Just wear a hijab and dress yourself the Turkish way.
5) For the sisters, avoid to come on your own, unless you really have no choice. Minimum two sisters is good.
6) For couples and families, mentally prepare yourself to be separated for a month to six weeks after your arrival. Since the men will immediately depart to a training camp, while their relatives go to a villa where other families are staying. For those who know brothers or sisters able to take their family in, arrange with them that they pick up your wife or family at the villa. But hey, that’s very rare.
7) Take all your precious belongings with you in a handbag, not in your luggage.
8) For those who are coming by car, at this moment cars cannot enter. It is necessary to park the car at a spot where you don’t have to pay, take a picture of it, write down the address and give that to the brothers. It’s possible that this problem will be solved in the near future and the cars can enter again.
9) Avoid to take your entire house with you! Everything you need is available here, be it clothes or things for your home, we have everything. It’s better to carry cash with you and buy it here.
10) I have all the information about the route to follow and the phone numbers to call. But expect a series of questions and excuse me if I don’t answer the phone. We cannot trust everyone.
11) Buy an anonymous phone card at home that lets you make a phone call in Turkey.
12) Don’t behave like a warrior. Shave your beards, behave like tourists and buy tickets back and forth.
13) Say the prayers of the voyager, and bismilah, may Allah guide you and blind the kuffar.
8

Group Affiliations

It is estimated that about 438 Belgians at some point were active in Syria. Of this sample we fully identified 132 persons; this means we know them by name, age, town of origin, affiliation in Belgium and Syria. 81 further anonymous persons are known by their kunya or “nom de guerre”. At least 35 of the Belgians in Syria are women. The oldest fighter is Bassam al-Ayashi (68), the youngest one (left early 2014) is Younes Abaaoud (just 14). The average age of the Belgians is 25. At least 14 of them are minors. About 44 individuals were killed in battle (not all of them were identified) and it is estimated by government officials that around 70 to 90 people have returned from Syria.9 When we take a look at the group affiliations of the Belgian fighters a first striking observation is that about 15 % of the ones who have been in Syria at some point have official ties with Sharia4Belgium. Furthermore, if we take a look at the 46 people standing trial on the Sharia4Belgium case in Antwerp; most of them are either killed or still fighting in Syria. Only 9 people standing trial on a total of 46 in what is called Belgium’s largest anti-terrorist trial ever, is perceived by some as the Belgian government desperately wanting to set an example for others who still want to leave.

It should be pointed out that most of the Sharia4Belgium members who went to Syria can be seen as what the author of this piece calls the first wave of leavers. This first wave might be seen as those who left out of ideology, the ones who wanted to act against President al-Assad’s war on his own population as they perceive it. In the first wave we also saw some adventurers, people who seem to have only left to experience war; most of these people returned utterly disillusioned. Yet, not all of them are to be classified in this group; a lot of these early leavers were real die-hards, already fully radicalized who previously attempted to join Jihadist groups in Somalia, Yemen, or Chechnya. Most definitely the situation has changed, we are now confronted with what might be called the second wave; those who immediately want to join the Islamic State as it is called after ISIS re-established their version of the Islamic Caliphate. As noted by Belgian newspaper journalist Guy Van Vlierden and myself this new wave of Belgian fighters is immediately leaving to join IS in ar-Raqqa, its provincial capital in Eastern Syria. A prime example can be found when three youngsters from Kortrijk left for Syria; they had one prime target: ar-Raqqa. If there is one important difference between those who left during the first wave and the second it would be their favor to fight for the Islamic State.

Yet, most of the Sharia4Belgium members who left in the mean while joined the Islamic State in ar-Raqqa. About 45 percent of the Sharia4Belgium members joined the Islamic State after having been affiliated with other groups like Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen or Katibat al-Ansar wa’l-Muhajireen. Belgian fighters in 2012 originally mostly ended up joining Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, at that time a rather small brigade led by the Syrian brothers Firas (aka Abu Muhammad) and Amr al-Absi (aka Abu Athir). In the interrogations more than one of them named Abu Athir as their leader.10

According to the Belgians Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen existed out of two branches, the Ansar and the Muhajireen. The Ansar were all Arabs, mostly Syrians, the Muhajireen were all Europeans, at first only Belgians but later also Dutch and French joined. The Muhajireen were led by their Belgian Emir Houssien Elouassaki from Vilvoorde. Both branches were housed separately in Kafr Hamra; they had a villa and a palace at their disposal. Near the end of November 2012 Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen counted around 30 to 45 fighters, most of them Ansar. A few months later the Muhajireen branch consisted out of 35 to 40 fighters, most of them from Antwerp, Vilvoorde and Brussels.

In the early days Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen cooperated with the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat an-Nusra, and Ahrar as-Sham. In the first half of 2013 Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen entered the ISIS coalition together with the brigade of ‘Umar Shishani. It is said that Houssien Elouassaki, the emir of the Muhajireen at that time pledged allegiance to Jabhat an-Nusra after a dispute with Abu Aseer. Fighters who followed him were Azdine Tahiri, Abdellah Nouamane, Mohamed Mezroui, Adel Mezroui, Nabil Kasmi, Michaël Delefortrie and Brahim Bali. Several of them later ended up with ISIS after all. Belgians who immediately joined ISIS were Saïd and Ali El-Morabit.11

A small minority of Belgians, about ten of them, are affiliated with Suqur as-Sham. At least 13 fighters are still affiliated with Jabhat an-Nusra. We know of one Belgian of Syrian origin who joined the Syrian Arab Army. At a certain point it was even estimated that a total of about 270 Belgians could have been affiliated with IS, although in my opinion that number is most likely too high. Guy Van Vlierden describes how he reached that number on his blog:

The number of Belgians in the ranks of the Islamic State can be as high as 270. That’s the estimate I published yesterday in the newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’, showing two of the most recent recruits.

The estimate of 270 compatriots within the Islamic State is based upon the database of Belgian fighters in Syria that arabist Pieter Van Ostaeyen and I maintain using several open sources. It has to be stressed that the number is an extrapolation, since we do not know for sure the affiliation of all 385 entries already on our list.

We do have that information for 72 of the Belgian fighters, and identified 50 as members of IS. What means that in this sample, the share of the Islamic State amounts to almost 70 percent. Details about the others can be found at Pieter’s blog. The ratio can be different in the total figure of course, but seemingly there are no reasons to assume that difference is significant. So it’s fair to say that the Belgian presence within IS can amount to 270.’12

The problem with the math here would be in my opinion that this doesn’t take in account that a lot of Belgian fighters joined Jihad in Syria even before ISIS claimed a place in the Syrian war and the fact that some returned or got killed before the rise of ISIS in the spring of 2013.

Remarkable is that of the 202 we were able to pinpoint to a city in Belgium; the majority of them originates from Flanders and more precisely the north-south axis Antwerp, Mechelen, Vilvoorde, Brussels. This could be explained by the fact that Sharia4Belgium was mostly active in these cities. If we look at the total count (based on own research) that would leave us with a total number of people leaving per city as follows:

 

  1. Brussels: 73 individuals13
  2. Antwerp: 65 individuals
  3. Vilvoorde: 25 individuals
  4. Mechelen: 14 individuals
  5. Other cities in Flanders: 17
  6. Cities in Wallonia: 8

Map Belgian Jihadi's

(See map for details)

As pointed out before it is assumed that this central north-south axis is overrepresented because the strong influence of the Sharia4Belgium-network. As for the individuals who left from the eastern or western provinces of Flanders there are only four of them with an identifiable link with these networks.14

As far as our open source gathering allowed us, we were able to locate 107 Belgians in Syria and Iraq. Some of them over the course of due time moved to ar-Raqqa as they became affiliated with the Islamic State. It must be noted that there still is an important presence of Belgian fighters in Aleppo, most of them affiliated with Jabhat an-Nusra. The majority of them however

The areas where the Belgian contingent was or is active:

  1. Aleppo : 44
  2. Idlib : 12
  3. Raqqa : 25
  4. Homs : 8
  5. Damascus : 7
  6. Latakia : 4
  7. Deir ez-Zor: 4
  8. Azaz: 2
  9. Atma: 1
  10. Dabiq: 1
  11. Saraqib: 1
  12. Kobani: 1
  13. At least five Belgians are currently in Iraq, mostly around Mosul

Addendum: The Belgian “Convoy of Martyrs”:

(in random order)

  1. Abd ar-Rahman al-Ayashi (aka Abu Hajjar), 38, Idlib, Suqur as-Sham
  2. Abdalgabar Hamdaoui, 34. Jabhat an-Nusra
  3. Abdel Monaïm Lachiri (aka Abu Sara), 33, Aleppo, ISIS
  4. Abu al-Bara’ al-Jaza’iri, Saraqib
  5. Abu Ali al-Baljiki, Idlib
  6. Ahmed Dihaj (aka Abu Atiq), 32, Sharia4Belgium, Jabhat an-Nusra. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial. Left Belgium in April or May 2013, killed September 2013
  7. Anonymous, Ahmed Stevenberg, Lattakia
  8. Anonymous (Vilvoorde)
  9. Anonymous (Vilvoorde)
  10. Anonymous (Brussels)
  11. Faysal Yamoun (aka Abu Faris al-Maghribi), 30, Antwerp, Sharia4Belgium, Jabhat an-Nusra. Left Belgium on December 7, 2012. Killed February 2014. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
  12. Hamdi Mahmoud Saad, 32, Latakkia
  13. Houssien Elouassaki (aka Abu Fallujah), 22, Vilvoorde, Sharia4Belgium. Killed in Aleppo province September 2013. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
  14. Isma’il Amghroud, 22, Maaseik, killed June 2013
  15. Khalid Bali (aka Abu Hamza), 17, Antwerpen, Deir ez-Zor, Sharia4Belgium, ISIS, killed May 2014.
  16. Mohammed Bali (aka Abu Hudayfa), 24, Antwerp, Sharia4Belgium, ISIS, killed in Hama. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
  17. Noureddine Abouallal (aka Abu Mujahid), 23, Antwerp, Sharia4Belgium, killed in July 2013. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
  18. Raphael Gendron (aka Abdurauf Abu Marwa), 38, Brussels, Suqur as-Sham, Idlib, killed in April 2013
  19. Sean Pidgeon, Left Belgium in November 2012, killed in March 2013.
  20. Tarik Taketloune, Vilvoorde, 19, Sharia4Belgium, brother and wife still in Syria, killed in May 2013. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
  21. Anonymous, known as Younis Asad Rahman (aka Asad ar-Rahman al-Baljiki), Latakkia, killed in August 2013
  22. Saïd El Morabit (aka Abu Muthanna al-Baljiki), 27, Sharia4Belgium, ISIS, killed in March 2014. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
  23. Abu ‘Umar, ISIS, Brussels
  24. Abu ‘Umar al-Baljiki, killed in Latakia in October 2014
  25. Rustam Gelayev (son of Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev), Aleppo, killed in August 2012
  26. Nabil Azahaf (aka Abu Sayyaf), 21, Brussels, Sharia4Belgium, ISIS, killed in May 2014. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
  27. Anonymous, known as Abu Dujana al-Mali, Brussels, ISIS, ar-Raqqa, killed in March 2014
  28. Karim Azzam (aka Abou Azzam), 23, Brussels, killed in April 2014
  29. Anonymous, known as Abu Salma Al-Belgiki, Deir ez-Zor province, killed in August 2013
  30. Anonymous, known as Abu Handalah, killed in Aleppo
  31. Anonymous, killed in clashes with tribal fighters on July 30th 2014 in al-Keshkeyyi, Deir ez-Zor province
  32. Iliass Azaouaj, 23, Brussels, killed by The Islamic State for alledged betrayal. Raqqa, August 2014
  33. Abu Jihad al-Baljiki, further unknown, killed on August 31st in a regime counter-attack defending the Deir ez-Zor military airport.
  34. Abu Mohsen at-Tunisi, further unknown, killed on August 31st in a regime counter-attack defending the Deir ez-Zor military airport.
  35. One of the Bakkouy brothers from Genk. Killed late September 2014.
  36. Abu Yahya al-Beljiki, reported killed on October 15, 2014.
  37. Ilyass Boughalab, killed in March 2014, Shariah4Belgium, ISIS. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
  38. Abū ‘Umar al-Beljīkī, of Saudi origin, killed in Latakia province in the beginning of October 2014, Jabhat an-Nusra
  39. Khalid Hachti Bernan aka Abu Qa’Qa, ISIS memeber from Virton, reported dead in May 2014
  40. Abu Adnan al-Baljiki, previous Jabhat an-Nusra member, joined ISIS in December 2013, killed in September 2014
  41. Abu Muhammad al-Baljiki, unknown ISIS fighter, killed in Deir ez-Zor mid October 2014
  42. Oufae Sarrar, aka Umm Jarrah, Sharia4Belgium, ISIS, wife of Ilyass Boughalab, killed end 2013. First known Belgian women killed
  43. Zakaria El Bouzaidi, friend of Sean Pidgeon, killed in September 2014
  44. Abu Sulayman al-Baljiki al-Maghribi, unknown ISIS fighter, killed in Kobanê mid November 2014

NOTES:
____________

1 On their website http://www.embnet.be/Default.aspx the Muslim Executive publishes information on social affairs, dates of religious festivities, mosques, Imams and social affairs. Very recently the Executive was forced by the Belgian government to distance itself from the Islamic State formerly known as ISIS.

2 It was only in 2007 that Belgian newspaper De Gazet van Antwerpen stated that the city was losing this negative nickname. See http://www.gva.be/cnt/aid631647/mechelen-raakt-af-van-imago-chicago-aan-de-dijle

3 Translated by the author. Original text released in September 2014 via social media. Published at http://pietervanostaeyen.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/statement-by-fouad-belkacem-sharia4belgium/

4 This text was published on the About us section on the now closed down website http://www.islam4uk.com

6 Translated by the author. ‘Het verhaal van een Antwerpse IS-strijder in Syrië’, M. AlDe’emeh, Knack. September 17 2014, p.29

7 It’s not me who appeals to them. It’s Allah who demands to defense the widow and the orphin. Just like he asks us to aid the poor every Saturday […] These are orders from Allah. La Libre Belgigique, Il distribue des repas et recrute pour la Syrie, April 23, 2013. http://www.lalibre.be/actu/belgique/il-distribue-des-repas-et-recrute-pour-la-syrie-51b8fbb4e4b0de6db9ca44d7

9 In own research this number is significantly lower, about 30.

10 Personal interview with Guy Van Vlierden, who had access to the judicial pieces from the Sharia4Belgium trial.

11 ibidem

13 According to Belgian senator Karl Vanlouwe 141 Belgian fighters stem from Brussels, double the amount counted in own research.

GUEST POST: The Different Functions of IS Online and Offline Plegdes (bay’at): Creating A Multifaceted Nexus of Authority

NOTE: As with all guest posts, the opinions expressed below are those of the guest author and they do not necessarily represent the views of this blogs administrator and does not at all represent his employer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Jihadology.net aims to not only provide primary sources for researchers and occasional analysis of them, but also to allow other young and upcoming students as well as established academics or policy wonks to contribute original analysis on issues related to jihadism. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email your idea/post to azelin [at] jihadology [dot] net.

Click here to see an archive of all guest posts.

The Different Functions of IS Online and Offline Plegdes (bay’at): Creating A Multifaceted Nexus of Authority

by Philipp Holtmann

Introduction

The Islamic State (IS) wages a global battle, which aims at ideological hegemony over Islamic concepts of statehood and governance. An important part of this strategy is IS’ multipronged and interconnected bay’ah-campaign. Since the proclamation of the caliphate in June 2014, the Islamic State has been putting a strong focus on the marketing of plegdes (bay’at) of investiture and obedience to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Dozens of other jihadi groups and cells, as well as tribes and communities, locally and internationally, some of them formerly allied with al-Qaeda, have announced their obedience to IS. Also in the online world, there has been a viral competition among sympathizers and supporters to “virtually pledge” to IS, which, albeit, has met strong criticism from other Muslims, including Salafists and Islamists, who claim that virtual and physical pledges to IS’-caliphate contradict Islamic law. With the multifunctional use of integrated offline and online pledges IS aims to establish territorial, political, ideological, and virtual leadership, based on self-reliable re-enactment. IS uses offline and online pledges to create traditional structures of authority and leadership in local arenas under its control, to establish long-range command over far-flung affiliates, to enhance tactical performance, as well as to lead and radicalise individuals via the Internet.

Bay’at in classical Islamic political theory

The importance IS gives to the bay’ah or oath-taking ritual cannot be overstressed. Pledges are regulated by a special body of rules in Islamic law and distinctive mechanisms of the buildup of Islamic political systems. Pledges, first and foremost, regulate the delegation of power and creation of leadership. Although mostly referred to as “pledges of allegiance,” this expression is somehow misleading, for pledges are applied to a much wider variety of purposes. Some Muslim scholars argue that obedience to the caliph is identical with obedience to Allah, and a bay’ah given to caliph equals a bay’ah to Allah.1 The “caliphate” stands for god-focused rule in accordance with Islamic law.

In Sunni political theory, the pledge is a contract between the ruler and the ruled and the basis for Islamic governance. The caliphate, imamate or emirate is established by a bay’ah-contract between the leader and the jama’ah (community). Obedience is exchanged against good governance. Sub-contracts on leadership can be closed between subjects and subordinate leaders, as well as upon other aspects of Islamic governance (“smaller pledges”). The written or spoken formula of the “greater pledge” may be summarized as “to listen and to obey in hard and in easy times, unless the ruler commands a sin against God” and is accompanied by a handshake or a letter in return, and thus the confirmation of both sides to honor the contract. This establishes the triadic nexus of political-military-religious/judicial leadership, which is typical for the caliphate.

The caliph is the viceregent of Muhammad, the politico-religious leader, who heads the Muslim Nation (imam) and the supreme military commander (amir al-mu’minin) in personal union. However, only the first four caliphs (the “rightly guided ones”) fullfilled this condition. Past Islamic empires were often led by multiple factions, and real power was overtaken by internal usurpers. Some caliphs only served as puppets, who gave legitimacy to the political structure. They were appointed behind the scenes by powerful sultans. Already the ‘Ummayad rulers transformed the caliphate into a dynastic monarchy based on hereditary succession. But the caliphate remained an important office to lend symbolic legitimacy to the rulers and safeguard the “unity” of the Muslim community, and thus, the connected pledge-mechanisms (investiture and obedience) remained central to the legitimation of leadership as well.

Obedience to Muhammad and those in power is derived from Sura IV., 62. In theory Islam is an absolute theocracy; in fact it is an absolute monarchy limited only by the caliph’s dependence on the decisions of the ‘ulema, from the time of Mu’awiya onwards. According to Muslim tradition only the first four successors of Muhammad were caliphs in the strict sense; with Mu’awiya, mulk (absolute monarchy) arose. Yet some of the Abbasid caliphs came up to the standard required of the imam [provost in the sense of the highest politico-religious leader of the Muslim community] as the ‘Commander of the Faithful [highest military leader]‘,”2

There are three ways to invest a caliph. An electory commission, the “people of resolution and contract (ahl al-hall wa-l-’aqd) can agree upon (ijma’) and invest the caliph by a “pledge of investiture” (bay’t al-in’iqad), which is a non-public “special pledge” (bay’ah khassa). One faction of Islamic jurists, such as al-Mawardi (991-1031), says that the Muslim community has to confirm this election and the contract (ahd, aqd) publicly with “popular pledges” (bay’at al-nas), also called “general pledges” (bay’at ‘ammah) or “pledges of obedience” (bay’at ‘ala al-ta’ah). They are given in local mosques to representatives of the caliph. Other jurists, such as Ibn Jama’a (1241-1333) say that this condition is not necessary; on the contrary, a caliph may even usurp power to preserve the public interests. Both factions agree on a third way of investiture: The reigning caliph may designate his successor as heir-presumptive (wali al-’ahd). In this case, agreement, investiture and public consens become mere formalities.3

The supreme Muslim leader has to fullfill several conditions, among them to possess ‘ilm, i.e. the necessary knowledge of traditions to make independent decisions based on Islamic precepts (ijtihad), be physically and mentally fit, posess courage and determination and be a descendant of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca (Muhammad’s tribal lineage). Pledges typically involve acceptance by the leader and are not just a one sided declaration by subordinates, although there are early Islamic examples of long-range bay’at through the writing and sending of pledges to the Muslim Prophet Muhammad from far-away tribes and monarchies, which jihadi-salafi groups have adapted to “online-pledges.”

In classical Islamic theory “the greater pledge” is strictly reserved for the caliph. IS has re-invoked this pledge in the summer of 2014.4 Al-Qaeda Central quickly tried to counter IS’ global ambitions and dug out an old recording, in which Usama Bin Laden gave a similar pledge to Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, in 2001. Al-Qaeda thus designated the Taliban as “watchdogs” of the caliphate – something between a caliphate and an emirate5 – and called upon all Muslims and AQ-affiliates to subordinate to their overarching authority.6 Members who are bound to al-Qaeda by a “smaller pledge” (limited emirship) are also bound by al-Qaeda’s “greater pledge” to the Taliban, the leader of the organization, Ayman al-Zawahiri, explained.

But al-Qaeda’s effort did not ring very true given its conflictual history with pledges (the organization refused to pledge to the Taliban in the 1990s) and its mismanaged and ambigous handling of the crisis between Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS in 2013 (the former remained loyal to al-Qaeda, the latter developed into IS). Al-Qaeda’s claim also came a bit too late, for IS’ bay’ah campaign had just gained full swing.

The use of smaller bay’at in modern Islamic movements

Various other functions and mechanisms of pledges have become popular since the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924, influencing the use of bay’at by Muslims until today.7 These modern adaptations and mix of “smaller pledges” with “popular pledges of obedience” developed because the central and unifying Sunni-Muslim authority was missing; secular state ideologies and modern governance were introduced in the Middle East and often irreconcilable with the traditional mechanism. “Smaller pledges” became adapted to the investiture of monarchs, for example, in Morocco and in Saudi Arabia, and to elect leaders of modern Islamist oppositional groups, as well as Salafist and Jihadist organizations. But that said, already in early Islamic history, secessionist factions have pledgded bay’at to install alternative power centres, such as the breakaway Muslim faction “Khawarij,” or the rebellion of the governor Mu’awiya against Ali, which led to the Sunni-Shiite split.

The greater bay’ah – The election of the caliph al-Baghdadi

Even though IS exercises only regional control, and its resources and structure can at best be described as those of an “emirate,” the organization has used Islamic legal loopholes to declare itself a “caliphate.” IS has thought one step ahead to foster the legitimacy of the “greater caliphal pledge” against Muslim critique.

First and foremost, Islamic law allows that the vacant caliphate can be filled by an authority that musters the necessary resources and receives the consensus of a representative Muslim council. IS claims that it fullills this condition and thus rules legally. In order to meet the requirement of an expert council’s agreement (ijma‘) and thus create an investiture, which is harder to contest by Muslim critiques, al-Baghdadi’s predecessor between 2006 and 2010 integrated delegates of affiliated terrorist groups into the Islamic State of Iraq’s decision-council, according to their numerical strength and the extent of their operations. A similar structure was probably integrated into the Islamic State’s council. IS claims that such a representative expert commission invested Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi. In addition, IS claims that al-Baghdadi is a descendant of the Quraysh tribe, thus fulfilling one of the central conditions required from a caliph by some of the influential classical Islamic jurisprudents.

It should be noted that all experiments with governance and pledges by IS’ precursors in Iraq since 2003 were probably aimed at the caliphate in the long-run. Usama bin Laden was in favor of the jihadi developments in Iraq, until it became clear from 2010 on that al-Qaeda’s Iraqi franchise was developing into an ever more independent structure. Bin Laden allegedly once stated that avoiding the pledge of obedience to one of the emirs of al-Qaeda in Iraq was a shariatic crime, because it hindered the “establishment of the greater Muslim group under a single Imam.”8

Secondly, IS wants to satisfy the classical condition that the “greater pledge” of investiture is followed by popular pledges of obedience (bay’at ‘ala al-ta’ah). It seems that, according to some Islamic traditions, it suffices if only a local Muslim minority, for example, the citizens in the capital, confirm the investiture of the caliph. IS argues by analogy that not all subjects must know the caliph,9 especially since security conditions do not allow for public appearances.10 In order to appear as if it is nonetheless fulfilling the condition of popular confirmation and agreement (ijma‘), IS organizes public pledges of obedience in mosques in Syria and Iraq and continues to film and upload them on the Internet.

In reality, the mechanism, which brought al-Baghdadi to power, seems to be located somewhere between election (ikhtiyar) and usurpation of a void caliphate (taghallub), enforcing bay’at through coercion by the wielder of force (qahru sahibihi-l-shawka), which according to some Islamic law schools can take place without confirmation by the Muslim community (jama’ah). The medieval Shafi’i scholar Ibn Jama’ah even de jure recognizes usurpation of the office of the caliph, either by overpowering a ruling imam or by overtaking the vacant office. There is no need for a contract between the imam and the community. The bay’ah of investiture can be quasi-enforced and does not need to be sealed by a contract. “Self-investiture by armed force is lawful, and obedience is due to such a ruler ‘so that the unity of the Muslims is assured and that they speak with one voice.’”11 Yet, this classical condition does not allow to enforce public and popular bay’at, which is why IS puts such an emphasis on marketing its pledges as voluntary decisions.

In summary, IS exerts efforts to prove the legality of al-Baghdadi’s investiture. Some Islamic legal stipulations support the procedure and supply IS with considerable interpretational depth. The main thrust of Muslim critiques goes into the direction that they describe IS as an “emirate” with local control and criticize IS for enforcing bay’at by coercion (ikrah), including draconic punishments (collective punishment, mass executions, torture) against civilians who refuse to pledge. Influential jihadi ideologues and Salafi clerics have already initiated counter-debates into this direction, among them Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, ‘Adnan al-Arour, or the Islamic Body of Greater Syria (hay’at al-sham al-islamiyya). There are vehement Muslim online-discussions against IS-bay’at, for example on muslm.net and islamicawakening.com. But there still seems to be little coordination and networking in these counter-efforts.

IS-bay’at and local alliances: territorial expansion and indoctrination

IS’ uses bay’at to forge local alliances with tribes and force communities under its control. In IS-propaganda, newcomers seem to willingly consent, but incidences of horrific intimidation and violence suggest that many pledges are enforced. In Iraq and in Syria, IS-representatives take “popular pledges of obedience” (bay’at ‘ammah; ‘ala al-ta’ah) from tribes and communities in order to confirm or renew the contract (tajdid al-’ahd) of subordination under al-Baghdadi.12 IS-affiliates in Libya and in Algeria copy this practice and try to drag communities under their control.13

Popular pledges on local levels knit a more cohesive area of governance out of the territorial patchwork under IS-control. For example, IS seeks the allegiance of tribes along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in Syria and Iraq, a region, which it has to share with rival militias and alliances. Some of the tribes connect across the Turkish, Syrian, and Iraqi borders. In addition, IS continues to take pledges and establish bases in major cities, such as in Homs and al-Raqqa in northern Syria and in Mosul in northern Iraq.

A single Iraqi tribe can muster up to 10,000 armed men. Such coalitions not only boost IS militarily, but allow it also to indoctrinate a large number of people. The aspect of indoctrination is important, because the idea of IS “cannot be detected by spy drones.” It cannot be “blown out of existence by heavy bombers.”14 Thus, IS may not control more than a few dozen villages, towns and cities, but its ideological territory is steadily growing. Even in the event of territorial losses, IS seems to calculate leaving behind indoctrinated populaces and, therefore, focuses on the most vulnerable members of society, taking even from children bay’at “to fight until death.”15 Adults who may be able to escape IS’ ideological trap, because they subordinate under IS-control in a utilitarian and survival-oriented fashion, still fear that “IS focus on education and indoctrination of children is part of a long-term strategy to more closely link the group with the populations it governs.”16

Rival tribal coalitions use “blood pledges” (bay’at damm) to forge blood-based alliances against IS, such as the Shu’aytat in the Syrian governorate of Deir al-Zour. But punishment of deviators who refuse to pledge seems to be sadistically harsh. IS boasts in its online journal “Dabiq” that collective punishment is the “best way” to deter tribal societes and documents the arrests of Shu’aytat-members who are then herded to their executions. Pictures of other dead men, who were shackled, shot, and maimed in Syria and Iraq, resurface in social media and confirm terrible massacres over hegemony between rival tribal and organizational alliances, which bear seemingly endless conflict potential.17

IS-bay’at and international alliances: Enact terrorist deterrence and retaliation strategies

For the past two decades, al-Qaeda Central has demonstrated how to win new subordinates and to build international alliances through “plegdes of allegiance,” putting a hierarchy, strategic command, and obligations upon affiliate organizations. The geographical distance of these alliances did often not allow face-to-face bay’at between representatives of both sides. In order to separate strong from spurious alliances, al-Qaeda central started to confirm pledges of new affiliates via the media, such as the integration of al-Qaeda in Iraq under its command in 2004, or that of the Somali Shabaab al-Mujahidin Movement in 2012.

IS has done away with the feedback mechanism in many of its long range alliances. This method is too slow and not effective. IS wants to use popular plegdes to quickly forge international alliances, set up long-range leadership via the Internet, and to enact terrorist deterrence and retaliation strategies through these alliances. The addressees are not only larger groups, but also individuals, small communities and dispersed networks.

The new franchising to which IS puts pledges does not quite correspond with the older al-Qaeda paradigm described by Kévin Jackson that “assertions dubbing some al Qa’ida’s affiliates/franchises on the only basis that an oath has been sworn should be met with skepticism at the very least [...] groups rendering their allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri cannot be labeled al Qa’ida in the absence of an official recognition from the Pakistan-based leadership.“18

The matter is more ambigous. Although all new IS-affiliates have sworn absolute loyalty to the mother organization, it is true that only a few have lived up to the command issued by IS in September 2014 to start terrorist-deterrence attacks against citizens of the U.S.-led coalition the world over.19 An example that one should regard the publication of bay’at by aspiring affiliates with caution is the Abu Sayyaf Group, which propagated a bay’ah to IS by one of its wings in a utilitarian fashion, but at the same time released two German hostages in October 2014 against ransom, instead of enacting IS’ deterrence command.20 Yet, other affiliates have behaved very differently and challenge the interpretation that bay’at must be confirmed in order to become effective.

Thus, it seems that IS’ confirmed affiliates are not necessarily more effective than “unrecognized, self-proclaimed” affiliates. The Algerian “Jund al-Khilafa” or the Libyan “al-Battar” groups, for example, both murdered and put in practice IS-strategic commands, however, without explicit recognition from the mother-organization.21 Neither did past confirmations of affiliates by al-Qaeda Central’s create stable alliances: Al-Qaeda in Iraq, today IS, has betrayed its bay’ah to al-Qaeda Central, and the Somali Shabaab al-Mujahidin Movement did not wait for a confirmation of its bay’ah by al-Qaeda Central to start attacks in the name of its separate alliance with the “Islamic State of Iraq” in 2010.22

Also a resource-centred focus on jihadi alliance-hubs fails to address the factor of ideological dedication on the side of some affiliates. Tricia Bacon recently argued that in order to become an effective alliance hub, a mother organization must be capable of providing resources and capabilities to its partner organizations. In addition, it must desire to act as a hub.23 IS fullfills these conditions. But this argument does not address the partner organizations’ level of dedication to the obligations that underlie jihadi alliances, which are forged by pledges. Pledges are – at least by legal definition – Islamic contracts, rather than mere “declarations of allegiance.” For some affiliates, who have enacted orders, commands, and guidelines issued by IS, neither confirmation of their bay’at, nor support or profit seem to have played a major role. The core factor was their ideological conviction. They seemed to honor their pledges as transcendental Islamic contracts.

IS’ new leadership concept is partly built on guidelines for intrinsic and self-reliable management-by-objectives: “if you cannot perform hijrah for whatever extraordinary reason, then try in your location to organize bay’āt (pledges of allegiance) to the Khalīfah Ibrāhīm. Publicize them as much as possible. Gather people in the masājid, Islamic centers, and Islamic organizations, for example, and make public announcements of bay’ah. Try to record these bay’āt and then distribute them through all forms of media including the Internet.

IS’ use of functional pledges

IS uses “functional pledges”24 to motivate fighters to fulfill specific tactical goals. Thus, IS takes fighting-pledges (bay’at qital) and “death-pledges” from fighters before battle or example, to enhance battle trance and further radicalization, but also from children in order to indoctrinate them.25 Another example of functional bay’at is that of German and other European jihadis who emulate the “pledge of emigration” (bay’at hijra), which the Muslim Prophet Muhammad allegedly took from the nascent Muslim community before their migration from Mecca to Medina. The emigration to IS territory is pictured as the peak-point of their processes of radicalization, which are crowned by pledges of obedience to the organization.26 They serve as role-models in IS-propaganda and call upon others to follow suit. These actors participate in IS-propaganda as jihadi role-models and call upon others to follow suit.

Online bay’at: between real and virtual control

This leads us to a further category of IS-bay’at. Online pledges are becoming an integral part of IS’ power structure. IS uses the frame and the mechanisms of the classical Islamic caliphate together with a diffused netwar-strategy to enhance its halo of authority and thus, to solidify and connect real with virtual power structures. IS integrates popular bay’at of obedience and sub-functional, tactical pledges with the marketing of pledges via the Internet. In the wake of IS-announcement of the caliphate, hundreds of supporters have pledged “bay’at” through social media. IS’ virtual bay’ah campaign is overflowing with new contributions by the day: Pictures of tribal elders and youngsters pledging bay’at in IS-online magazines; accounts of massacres against those who refused; written pledges in social media, flyers advertising local-community pledges, such as in Derna in Libya, videos of bay’at to IS by fighting alliances, such as in the Syrian town of Shuhail south of Deir al-Zour.

In IS’ vision, online bay’at, i.e. given or documented online, are supposed to stimulate rites of passage, which immerse IS-sympathizers ever deeper into jihadi ideology and increase a feeling of shared brotherhood, communality and obedience, eventually turning them into active supporters and actors. IS hopes that the feeling of obligation will create enough psychological pressure to lead to single attacks, such as lately in Ottawa, Canada. Other “role-models” of this paradigm are individuals who perpetrated attacks and were strongly bound ideologically, such as Muhammad Bouyeri (Netherlands, 2004) and Taimour al-Abdaly (Sweden, 2010).

IS has been experimenting with online-pledges since 2006. The precursor of IS, al-Qaeda in Iraq, formed “The Islamic State of Iraq.” ISI tried to popularise the online use of ”pledges of obedience” by taking an important part of the Islamic electoral process to the Internet, namely the popular confirmation that has to follow a leader’s election by the ”special, or binding oath” of an electoral commission. Towards this end ISI started a campaign on jihad online forums, calling for members to confirm the election of its leader Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi (k. 2010). The online campaign was supposed to complement the ISI ground campaign in Iraq. The experiment was relatively unsuccessful, because al-Qaeda Central was still the figurehead of jihad and ISI appeared like a rogue outlaw. But IS, the successor organization, has learned since then and is now approaching the task differently. IS’ goal is to make pledges appear as “so common to the average Muslim that he considers those holding back as grossly abnormal.”27

Conclusion

IS-pledges contain concepts of leadership and authority, which can influence supporters and increase their commitment to extremist ideas. IS’ goal is to use pledges to create a virtual nexus of legitimacy and long-range leadership around its brand-name. Real actors and events, online campaigns and discussions as well as social media marketing of pledges are carefully interwoven. The concept becomes inextricably connected to the strenghtening of IS ideological authority, as expressed in pledges to commit oneself “to jihad until death.” If radicalisation can be influenced this way, then this becomes part of the IS` extended virtual leadership paradigm, which may be less accurate than “true” leadership, but nevertheless psychologically very effective.

Dr. Philipp Holtmann is a research analyst, who has lived and worked in several countries of the Middle East. He conducts in-depth research on Muslim media and Islamic governance.

NOTES:
____________

1 The foundation for this argument lies in the Quran, Chapter 6, Verse 62, which states that obedience to authority (amr) is a religious duty.

2 Erwin I.J. Rosenthal, Political Thought in Medieval Islam: An Introductory Outline (Cambridge: University Press, 1962), 26.

3 Ibid., 27-45.

4 Kljiuyh Dffiujru, “Kalimat al-shaykh al-mujahid Muhammad al-’Adnani al-Shami bi ‘inwan: hadha wa’ada Allah: I’lan qiyam al-khilafa al-islamiyya,” accessed November 7, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9E0ExjCEqY, 16:50 min.

5 “Yes, it is true that he [Mullah Omar] is not a caliph. But on the piece of land, which he governs, he has taken over the provisions of the caliphate, expressed in the conditions and the way he was designated, as well as the fullfilment of other representative, [caliph] status-like rules.” See “Bay’at amir al-mu’minin al-habib Aba ‘Umar al-Baghdadi fi mizan al-shar’,” discussion in 2008, accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.muslm.org/vb/archive/index.php/t-315656.html.

6 “Bushriyat – Ma’ al-sheikh Usama Bin Laden – rahimahu Allah – Sadira ‘an Mu’assasat al-Sahab li-l-Intaj al-I’lami – Ramadan 1435 AH – July 2017 AD,” accessed November 10, 2014, https://nokbah.com/~w3/?p=4669.

7 Abdullah bin Bajad al-’Utaybi, ” “Baya’na ‘ala al-sam’ wa-l-ta’ah,” accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.alarabiya.net/views/2007/05/07/34198.html.

8 “Bay’at amir al-mu’minin al-habib Aba ‘Umar al-Baghdadi fi mizan al-shar’,” discussion in 2008.

9 Oriented at the precedent cases of the investiture of the fourth rightly-guided caliph ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib) and his predecessors. See this Muslim discussion: “In’iqad al-khilafa: Bay’atai al-in’iqad wa-l-ta’ah,” accessed November 10, 2014, http://nusr.net/1/index.php/ar/dawla/dawla-taaseel/229-dawla-taaseel-3.

10 Usama bin Laden already supported this argument in favor of the Islamic State of Iraq and the election of its leader Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi in 2006. See “Bay’at amir al-mu’minin al-habib Aba ‘Umar al-Baghdadi fi mizan al-shar’,” discussion in 2008.

11 Erwin I.J. Rosenthal, Political Thought in Medieval Islam: An Introductory Outline (Cambridge: University Press, 1962), 45.

12 See the IS-publication “Dabiq,” issues 1-4.

13 „Video shows pledge of about 50 members of the Darna-community in Libya pledging to Islamic State of Greater Syria and Iraq – Organization,“ https://twitter.com/ALAMAWI/status/528830309689982976, accessed November 2, 2014. The north-eastern Libyan town Derna is the stronghold of IS-affiliated group „al-Battar“, which probably organized this meeting. In late October 2014, at least 50 male pledged obedience to al-Baghdadi. The event was marketed with flyers and on the Internet under the slogan „Put the hands [upon each other] to pledge to al-Baghdadi.

14 Uri Avneri, Is ISIS coming? November 8, 2014, http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery.

15 See “Da’ish taqum bi-tajnid al-atfal wa ‘akhada al-bay’ah minhum li-l-Baghdadi,” accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khg24RGTXws. Also this YouTube-video: “Documentary – Meeting ISIL (PressTV goes deep inside the terrorist group),” accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYj0cRSU-Fs.

16 Suggests an interview-based study of public opinion in the Syrian town of Manbih in the eastern Alleppo province, “Manbij and the Islamic State’s public administration,” http://gohasnail.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/manbij-and-the-islamic-states-public-administration/.

17 For example, https://twitter.com/ZZoz24/status/527473189828321280 and https://twitter.com/shakory_2/status/517546888992526337, accessed November 10, 2014.

18 Kévin Jackson, “The Pledge of Allegiance and Its Implications,” accessed November 7, 2014,

http://jihadology.net/2012/07/27/guest-post-the-pledge-of-allegiance-and-its-implications/. Although all new affiliates

have sworn absolute loyalty to the mother organization IS a, only a few have lived up to the task and one should regard

the publication of bay’at by aspiring affiliates with caution. One example is the Indonesian Abu Sayyaf Group, which

propagated the bay’ah to IS by one of its wings in a utilitarian fashion, but at the same time released two German

hostages in October 2014 against ransom, instead of enacting IS’ deterrence command. Yet, other affiliates have

behaved very differently and challenge the interpretation that bay’at must be confirmed in order to become effective.

19 “Abu Muhammad al Adnani the Leader of Islamic State send a Message to the World – YouTube,” accessed October 10, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4Zj5r3Jadw.

20 See Joseph Franco and Philipp Holtmann, “Pledges to Islamic State: Weak and Strong Alliances,” 12 November 2014, http://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/cens/co14221-pledges-to-islamic-state-weak-and-strong-alliances/.

21 In late September 2014, the Jund al-Khilafa group murdered the French hostage Hervé Gourdel, who had been on a hiking trip in Algeria. Shortly afterwards, the group issued a video that included excerpts of IS-call for deterrence operations, thus clearly indicating that it obeyed IS-command. In late October 2014, a Libyan jihadi leader of Ansar al-Shariah was beheaded by the jihadi battalion “al-Battar” because he had refused to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi.

See al-Wasat, “Al-Battar aqamat hadd qat’ al-ra’s ‘ala al-Zahawi li rafdihi bay’at Da’ish,” accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.alwasat.ly/ar/news/libya/43762/.

22 The 2010 suicide bombing by the Somali Shabab al-Mujahidin against African Peacekeeping forces in retaliation for the killing of two “Islamic State of Iraq” leaders in Iraq are clearly part of this paradigm (the Islamic State of Iraq, formerly affiliated with al-Qaeda Central, is the precursor of IS).

23 Tricia Bacon, “Alliance Hubs: Focal Points in the International Terrorist Landscape,” Perspectives on Terrorism 8:4 (2014), accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/357.

24 “Functional pledges” are a sub-category of “popular pledges,” which do not only regulate “listening and bedience,” but serve specific tactical goals within IS’ power-nexus. Functional pledges belong to the classical body of rules pertaining to pledges, such as pledges to memorize the Qur’an (‘ala hafz al-Qur’an). See “bay’ah”, on www.marefa.org, accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.marefa.org/index.php/بيعة

25 See “Da’ish taqum bi-tajnid al-atfal wa ‘akhada al-bay’ah minhum li-l-Baghdadi,” accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khg24RGTXws. Also this YouTube-video: “Documentary – Meeting ISIL (PressTV goes deep inside the terrorist group),” accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYj0cRSU-Fs.

26 They propagate the paradigm “iman-hjijra-jihad” (belief-emigration-jihad), See “Muhajir almani kuntu fi Jabhat al-Nusra,” accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbPrjiyj8M8. Also the bay’ah of the popular German jihad Dennis Couspert aka Abu Talha al-Almani: “Abu Talha al-Almani yubay’i al-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah fi-l-’Iraq wa-l-Sham,” accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOTvQO181jw.

27 IS-online magazine “Dabiq,” issue 2, p. 3-4

Check out my new ‘Policy Alert’ for The Washington Institute: “The Islamic State’s Archipelago of Provinces”

This week, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, released a rare public message in which he declared the creation of several new “provinces” in various Arab countries. It was the first time that he and his organization have acknowledged groups that have pledged baya (religiously binding oath of allegiance) to the so-called “Islamic State” since the announcement of its “Caliphate” six months ago. The audio message offers insight into the group’s expansion model and its plans for exacerbating religious tensions between Sunnis and Shiites beyond Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Whether Western governments want to admit it or not, the reality is that the Islamic State has expanded in a non-contiguous manner outside its base and now has authority over satellite groups and small amounts of territory outside Iraq and the Levant.

Click here to read the rest.

Hizballah Cavalcade: Hizballah al-Abrar: The Latest Hizballah Franchise in Iraq

NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.

 

Hizballah al-Abrar: The Latest Hizballah Franchise in Iraq

By Phillip Smyth

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology

Figure 1: Hizballah al-Abrar

Hizballah al-Abrar (HAA or the Party of God of the Righteous) follows in the footsteps of a long line of new Shia militia organizations which have been announced in Iraq since June 2014. These groups often model their symbolism, organizational structures, and ideological profile on Lebanese Hizballah. Additionally, these groups commonly have strong links and at times have shared commanders with other established Shia militia proxies of Iran.

HAA is no exception, utilizing the official logo of Lebanese Hizballah with the addition of a stylized map of Iraq in the globe section of the symbol. The group, mirroring other Iranian proxy Shia groups in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, also refers to itself as “al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq” (The Islamic Resistance in Iraq). HAA has done little to hide its connections to Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH). If anything, HAA actually promotes the links. Furthermore, its connections to other organizations promoting Iran’s Khomeinist ideology have been featured in other photos.

HAA’s secretary general, Sheikh Fadhel al-Khaz’ali, has been prominently featured in the group’s propaganda releases and has been used to show the group’s links to Iran’s Iraqi proxy groups. In one photo, Khaz’ali is shown receiving an award from the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation. In others, Khaz’ali is shown standing under the AAH banner.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology2

Figure 2: This photo claims to show Sheikh Fadhel al-Khaz’ali recieving an award from the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation.

Following a social media model which had been replicated by other newer Shia militias in Syria and Iraq, HAA initially published easily created images showing the group’s new symbol. Later, photos claiming to show fighters from the group, a more official looking fighting force, complete with patches, flags, and official statements began to appear after the group’s initial appearance on Facebook in August.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology3

Figure 3: A HAA fighter holding the group’s flag. This picture claimed to show HAA fighters heading to the Battle of Amerli.

In terms of combat deployments, the group has claimed it sent fighters to Amerli, Diyala, Baghdad, and the key battlefront of Jurf al-Sakhr. In a video released on October 28, 2014, HAA combatants waved the group’s flag along with that of Karbala-based Shia militia, Firqat al-‘Abbas al-Qataliya – al-Dafa’ ‘an Muqadisat al-Iraq (The Abbas Fighting Group – Defenders of the Iraqi Holy Sites) in what appeared to be an impromptu celebration commemorating recent victories in Jurf al-Sakhr.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology4

Figure 4: Two HAA fighters, Yasir al-Khazarji and Amir Sa’adi pose together under AAH and Shia religious banners. Note the HAA-specific arm patches.

Despite the fact that HAA has claimed to be positioned across diverse sections of Iraq, it has not stated the size of its force. Furthermore, the group’s quickly paced attempt to appear more professional online may demonstrate that the group will be further developed within Iraq’s Shia militia and political sphere. In fact, Sheikh al-Khaz’ali was pictured in an undated photograph with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other leaders from Iraq’s internal security forces and army.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology5

Figure 5(Right): Sheikh Khaz’ali is shown with a stylized Hizballah and Iraqi national flag.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology6

Figure 6 (Left): Sheikh Fadhel al-Khaz’ali poses with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others.

Thus far, the group has released a number of official statements. Below, a translated version of one statement dealing with “rumors” about ISIS penetrations of Baghdad, gives insight into the group’s worldview, including their anti-U.S. positions and opinions on fighting ISIS.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology7

Figure 7: HAA fighters gather for a photograph.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology8

Figure 8: AAH and HAA leaders are pictured together.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology9

Figure 9: HAA central leadership and combatants pose under Shia religious and an AAH banner.

Hizballah al-Abrar Jihadology10

Figure 10: HAA announcement released on social media on October 18, 2014.

Translation of HAA’s October 18, 2014 Announcement*:

There are rumors on social media websites that ISIS is close to entering Baghdad and that there are tens of thousands [of ISIS fighters] steps away from the heart of the capital, while thousands of others are standing behind the gates. Rumors about Baghdad Airport being under fire, that the Americans were able to kick ISIS groups out from the outskirts of the airport, rumors that the belt of Baghdad will close up on the Sadr City and Al-Shu’ala, rumors that millions of residents will become refugees, and that the flag of ISIS will be set up in Khazimiya, in Sayyid Idris [an important Shia shrine south of Najaf] and in the area of Khamsa [a Baghdad neighborhood], Khamsin, or in Muzzafar Square [a central square in Sadr City]. Despite all of these rumors, the clowns, murderers, and killers from ISIS are not close to entering Baghdad. None of them [the rumors] represents a grain of truth.

These [rumors] represent a lost bet that aims to spread chaos, frustration, and misery among the majority of the Iraqi people. This fear mongering is an old method of psychological warfare, it also serves to allow certain material and symbolic games. Regarding the theory of ISIS closing up on Baghdad, the Americans might be the party that is the most excited along with ISIS, Arab countries, and members of the Sunni minority. What are the possibilities this gang will enter the capital and is there a possibility to achieve this?

By reviewing ground data in places where the terrorist organization has entered, such as Mosul, Anbar, some regions of Salah Ad-Din [province], and limited regions of Diyala, we find that it is impossible for ISIS to enter Baghdad, because Baghdad has taken the necessary security steps. Second, because the forces of the popular [militias] and jihadists groups, especially the Islamic Resistance in Iraq Hizballah al-Abrar in Baghdad, can send the terrorists back to hell within hours not days. The most important thing is that those who foster terror and sleeper cells in Baghdad, even if they move along with ISIS’s movement, will not be able to offer full strategic and security coverage for them, because those who foster these cells are based in limited areas which are under surveillance and observation.

Entering Baghdad is not easy and there is no way to be convinced that it will happen quickly and easily. Especially if we want to keep in mind all of the facts on the ground and take into consideration the strength of the defending group, especially since there is proof that crushing ISIS is a likelihood. As is the case in Amerli, Samarra, and areas inhabited by most of the Iraqi people, the main factors which helped ISIS to reach Nineveh [Province] and Ramadi and some regions here and there, is not the strength of ISIS but because of [their sneaky behavior] betrayal. They are betraying these regions by conspiring with murderers and criminals under sectarian and vengeful pretexts. ISIS cannot come close to the walls of Baghdad because the forces which are defending Baghdad and consisting of Hizballah al-Abrar, the forces of the popular movements, and the holy warriors in all jihadist cells, along with governmental and security forces, supported by the heroes of Iraqi Air Force, can confront any attempt to take Baghdad. The fate of ISIS will be failure, especially because the defenders of Baghdad have more privileges than the attackers…we ask God to protect us and the Iraqi people.

* Some sections have been edited so there is better flow in English. Additionally, ISIS is referred to as “Da’ish” in the original statement.

GUEST POST: Recriminations on Social Media Shed Light on Jabhat al-Nusrah’s Inner Workings

NOTE: As with all guest posts, the opinions expressed below are those of the guest author and they do not necessarily represent the views of this blogs administrator and does not at all represent his employer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Jihadology.net aims to not only provide primary sources for researchers and occasional analysis of them, but also to allow other young and upcoming students as well as established academics or policy wonks to contribute original analysis on issues related to jihadism. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email your idea/post to azelin [at] jihadology [dot] net.

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By Sam Heller

In late October, ex-Jabhat al-Nusrah shari’ah official Sultan bin Eissa al-Atwi made what had been private recriminations over Nusrah’s loss of its eastern Syria stronghold very public. Over Twitter and TwitMail, Al-Atwi released a hyper-critical open letter to the global jihadist community, and the letter in turn sparked a series of acrimonious rebuttals. The episode may have been the most public, detailed airing of grievances from members (or ex-members) of a single al-Qaeda branch since the splits in Somalia’s al-Shabab in 2013. Many of the points were personal and hyper-specific, often revolving around the leadership of Nusrah’s former top shar’i (religious-legal official) Abu Mariya al-Qahtani. To the extent that Abu Mariya has been identified with a specific intellectual and political strain within Nusrah, however, the personal here is also political. Even the most ad hominem elements of these texts, which I’ve translated below, reflect real divisions within Nusrah over its strategy and identity as it works to retain relevance opposite the Islamic State (IS). They also help us partially reconstruct the slow-motion fall of eastern Syria to IS.

For much of the first half of 2014, Jabhat al-Nusrah in al-Sharqiyah – eastern Syria, and primarily oil-rich Deir al-Zour – had waged a losing battle against IS (then the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS). In May, Nusrah had taken the exceptional step of uniting with other Deir rebels (including “Free Syrian Army” elements) to form the Mujahideen Shura Council and defend the province against IS, yet IS continued to make headway. By the summer, IS had effectively encircled Deir and was picking off outlying towns. Still, it was only after IS staged its dramatic June surge in Iraq, including the capture of Mosul, that Deir resistance to IS really imploded. IS quickly funneled the advanced weaponry it had captured from a collapsing Iraqi army back to Deir al-Zour, using it to totally crush rebel and jihadist resistance. By July, IS had taken all of Deir al-Zour and linked its Syrian holdings in Aleppo and al-Raqqa with Iraq’s al-Anbar.

More than any other part of Syria, it was the East where Jabhat al-Nusrah had been the undisputed dominant force. When IS took the province, Nusrah lost its desert stronghold, as well as the province’s lucrative oil fields. Those members left alive were forced to flee across the al-Badiyah desert to western Syria.

Among them was Saudi national Sultan bin Eissa al-Atwi (AKA Abu al-Leith al-Tabbuki). Al-Atwi had been one of Jabhat al-Nusrah’s top officials in the East. He had reportedly risen from a shari’ah official and judge to become al-Nusrah’s emir (commander) for the al-Shamiyah (western) bank of the Euphrates River. He was also one of Jabhat al-Nusrah’s most prominent representatives on social media, sometimes to al-Nusrah’s chagrin – al-Atwi was occasionally accused of inflaming the escalating conflict with IS with his public belligerence.

Two other Nusrah shar’is in the East who enjoyed similar prominence were Kuwaiti Ali al-Arjani (AKA Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti) and Iraqi Maysar al-Jubbouri (AKA Abu Mariya al-Qahtani, al-Gharib al-Muhajer). The latter was, at the time, Nusrah’s top shar’i and reportedly one of its top officials and strategists. He seems to have since stepped down (or been pushed aside) in favor of the Jordanian Dr. Sami al-Oreidi, but he reportedly continues to steer events in the southern province Dara’a (more on which later).

In July, it was announced that al-Atwi had been removed from his leadership position and expelled from Nusrah. Abu Hassan seemed to (obliquely) deny this at the time, but all parties now seem to have confirmed that al-Atwi either quit or was run out of Nusrah in June / July of this year. Al-Atwi himself didn’t confirm that he had left Nusrah until October, about the time he began to take a more critical tone with Nusrah and advocate more forcefully for a truce with IS. This came amid a new wave of prominent jihadists inside and outside Nusrah defecting publicly to IS.

Still, it was al-Atwi’s 23 October open letter, promoted with the hashtag “#لله_ثم_للجهاد” (#For_God_Then_the_Jihad), that really set off this ugly public back-and-forth. Al-Atwi accused the commanders of Eastern Nusrah of, among other things: disregarding the leadership of Nusrah leader Abu Muhammad al-Jolani; acting as a tool of the al-Shuheil clan; squandering oil wealth; indulging corrupt and useless FSA partners; posing on Twitter instead of leading their troops; and obsessing over IS, both dragging all of Deir into a losing war and unjustly purging their own ranks of those tarred as “Dawa’ish” (IS members or supporters). Al-Atwi spools out a narrative in which he was one of the lone voices of right and reason. He maintains that he fought IS until the end, but he acknowledges that he pushed for some sort of truce and encouraged Deir locals to take deals if offered. Since fleeing to Dara’a, he claims to have been targeted by vindictive members of Eastern Nusrah after repeatedly complaining about Abu Mariya to al-Oreidi.

The key rebuttals to al-Atwi are translated below, including angry tweets from Abu Mariya and al-Atwi’s erstwhile friend Abu Hassan. The most interesting comes from Abu Omar al-Ageidi, an East Nusrah media representative who writes a really lacerating takedown of al-Atwi. Al-Ageidi’s narrative centers on a craven al-Atwi who was out of his depth as a military commander and who repeatedly betrayed his comrades by undermining morale in the fight against IS.

The truth is likely somewhere in between the point and counterpoint. You hardly need al-Ageidi to mock al-Atwi’s three (!) self-aggrandizing poems to realize that al-Atwi’s account is not perfectly objective. Al-Atwi claims, for example, that Eastern Nusrah’s leadership never played an active role in military planning or command, “they only used to take pictures of themselves ‘planning.’” In May, of course, Nusrah had released photos of commanders “planning” featuring Abu Mariya and, surprise, al-Atwi. It seems reasonable to assume that al-Atwi is motivated by animus towards Eastern Nusrah’s commanders and Abu Mariya in particular, whom he portrays as a sort of desert Ahab in his obsessive campaign against IS.

And yet many of al-Atwi’s points, both in broad terms and on the particulars, seem to have some basis – at least enough to take them seriously when looking at Nusrah and the East. The oil trade in Deir al-Zour was, by all accounts, a mess of tribal influence and corruption. Jabhat al-Nusrah had indeed been identified with the al-Shuheil. And al-Atwi is probably right that, by mid-summer, the fight against IS in the East was a lost cause. IS was riding high from its successive, dramatic gains, and the East’s rebels had seen all their supply lines cut. When al-Atwi talks about the Nusrah commanders in Albukamal who pledged allegiance to IS and paved the way for IS to take the border town, he says sympathetically that they made “the appropriate decision… the lesser of two evils” – and he’s arguably correct. By that point, taking a really unyielding stand against IS probably would have been suicide.

Some of al-Atwi’s critiques of Abu Mariya also seem worth reading closely. Abu Mariya has an influence and appeal in Syria that goes beyond Nusrah. He also, you might recall, figured prominently in freelance writer Theo Padnos’s account of his captivity with Nusrah. It was Abu Mariya who took responsibility for ferrying Padnos from Deir al-Zour to Dara’a when Nusrah left ahead of IS’s final advance. The Abu Mariya who told Padnos that “ISIS are the worst… They have made me very sad,” sounds a lot like the IS-fixated Abu Mariya described by al-Atwi. Al-Atwi’s accusation that Eastern Nusrah’s leadership thought that “if we (Nusrah) lost, then everyone had to lose,” sounds like a sort of darker take on the consensual, inclusive strategy with which Abu Mariya has been identified. Al-Atwi also likely exaggerated only a little when he talked about Eastern commanders’ Twitter use – Abu Mariya (or maybe an assistant) has only gone from “prolific” to “ultra-prolific” on Twitter since relocating to Dara’a.

Al-Atwi has now, true to his word, quit Twitter. It is unclear if he’ll suffer repercussions for airing Nusrah’s business so publicly. Abu Mariya, meanwhile, seems to have been somewhat marginalized – Nusrah in northern Syria has apparently abandoned the flexible, collaborative strategy with which Abu Mariya was associated in favor of a harsher jihadist purism. During the recent fighting with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in Idlib, his calls for restraint went conspicuously unheeded. Still, there are reports that he is reproducing his Deir strategy in Dara’a: bringing other Islamist or jihadist factions into a “shura council” while ruthlessly policing Nusrah’s ranks for those he suspects to be IS sympathizers. IS has so far failed to penetrate Dara’a; if it does, however, it will likely be the disgruntled foreign fighters boxed out by Abu Mariya who form its fighting core.

Sultan al-Atwi’s open letter, “For God, Then the Jihad,” 23 October 2014:

[Translator’s note: For some reason, al-Atwi’s letter prints its introduction and its first fifteen or so points twice. I’ve omitted the first introduction, which seems mostly identical to the second. One maybe relevant exception is this line, from the first introduction: “Fourth: It’s important that you know that I was a shar’i and judge, then an emir for the al-Shamiyah region (the western bank of the Euphrates); then a military commander and a member of the Shura Council in the East.” I’ve also merged the two in one instance by bringing footnote [1] from the first introduction to the corresponding line in the second.

There’s also one line in al-Atwi’s first poem that I and other Arabic speakers and translators I consulted were just unable to decipher. I’ve left it marked as “[Unclear].”]

Introduction:

Praise be to God, and peace be upon the Prophet of God, his family, his companions and those who supported him.

Lord, may I reveal the truth and defend it, and may I triumph over and destroy falsehood.

Mighty God said, “Those who invent falsehoods are those who do not believe in the verses of God, and it is they who are the liars.” (16:105)

Sacred God said, “Or they say [of the Prophet Muhammad], ‘He invented it?’ Say, ‘If I invented it, then [the consequences of] my crime are upon me; but I am innocent what crimes you commit.” (11:35)

The battlefields of jihad have been surrounded in mystery. Many have based their positions on news that is mistaken and false, behind which lies a love for command, revenge or ignorance. Those outside the jihadist battlefield have been stirred up, when [in reality] they don’t know the truth that is hidden from them on the basis of al-maslahah (religious/public interest). [It is] al-maslahah that makes you keep silent about the shedding of blood and the loss of the jihad; about the [deliberately] stirring up of anger and bitterness; about division between the mujahideen and the spreading of enmity among them; and about the duping of young men, cheating and tricking when [supposedly] providing advice [in the name of] God, his Prophet, and the Islamic nation. The al-maslahah that they claim, what is it but an equivalent to Satan saying to you, “For I am your protector” (8:48), only for the one providing advice to quickly turn on his heels.

There is no room for silence, as the Islamic nation has had enough trickery and lies. The matter is greater than people and groups whose truth might be shown to the public. The matter is one of a nation, of a religion that has been awaiting this jihad and these moments for years and years.

This “maslahah” is a sort of treason – lies and betrayal. It is the maslahah of a group and of individuals, whose interest cannot be put ahead of the interests of the Islamic nation.

How can I silence the voice of truth while falsehood spreads and is spread; while it echoes; while it is made victorious by the sincere, who are used but know it not.

Silence is the most treasonous thing in this dark period

[Unclear]

And when there is no voice but prideful villainy.

1. I will record here what I swear to be true before God, with no motive other than the interest of the Islamic nation and religion and the interest of this wounded people in Syria, the people whom we came to aid.

2. I also do this to advise those remaining sincere mujahideen who identify with their Islam, who are driven by their shari’ah, and who do not side chauvinistically with any group or organization, for they are above partisanship.

3. And I do this to stanch some of the bleeding wounds that have been concealed and have continued to bleed until they have nearly killed us. I have to point them out so we might be able to treat them before it is too late.

4. There are matters I want to point out first, before I move forward with my intended discussion, and they are points that help in understanding the discussion properly.

5. First, Jabhat al-Nusrah in the East is entirely detached from the command of [Jabhat al-Nusrah head Abu Muhammad] al-Jolani, and he has no relation to it. No command from him has force in [Eastern Jabhat al-Nusrah].

6. Second: Many of al-Jolani’s decisions were not implemented in the region (the East). Third: Al-Jolani had only one channel [of communications], only with Abu Mariya [al-Qahtani] and his group.

7. Third [sic]: I intended to aid the oppressed, and I always repeat that; that is why my goal was exploited in the interest of another, [different] project.

8. Fourth: I didn’t take the State (ISIS) as my enemy. Rather, I was intent on advising and containing them to the extent possible, but they were mobilizing against us. [1]

9. Fifth: Jabhat al-Nusrah was also mobilizing against them, and I witnessed that from Abu Mariya in what he said and in his policy of agitation against them.

10. Sixth: The problem of Jabhat al-Nusrah and the State didn’t concern me, and I didn’t intend to find out what lay behind it. I was eventually forced to learn that, however.

11. Seven: Twitter had a [substantial] impact on the battle, as did personalities outside Syria, including sheikhs and writers.

12. Eight: Many preachers, sheikhs and commanders received a picture [of what was happening] that was upside-down. I swear this before God: The ‘reality’ they heard, by God, it was false.

13. Nine: What facts I relate [here], I swear to their truth before God. I will record what my eye saw, what my ear heard, and what my heart knew, and I will tell you if something has reached me second-hand.

14. Tenth: I ask you – by God, next to Whom there is no other – to deliver this speech to the sheikhs and leaders in Syria and elsewhere.

15. We’ve grown used to what happens on the field of jihad to suffer one of two things: being silenced or covered up; or being reported in a false, backwards fashion. And each one has killed the jihad before and has helped to distort its image.

16. It is said to those who know the truth and silence it on the field of jihad that publishing something will lead to some corruption or ill, when the truth is that the ill is only harmful for a particular group.

17. What I record will be met – as usual, and as before – with expletives and accusations, or “May your hands perish all this day. It is for this purpose you have gathered us?” Even though the [newly] disgruntled had said before, “We have never known you to lie.”

18. I said before:

Whatever might be gained by speaking the truth, I will continue to say what is right and will not be turned;

I will continue to speak the truth, standing tall like the mountain that the coward cannot destroy.

19. I return to an important matter: my aim, on which my thoughts turn; the reason for making hijrah and for jihad, is it not to make the “rite of jihad” and to aid the oppressed? Anything else is only a means.

20. And so, from the time I joined Jabhat al-Nusrah, that was never my end – rather, it was my means to realize my aim of carrying out the rite of jihad and aiding the oppressed [Syrian] people. Thus, I never pledged allegiance to anyone.

21. So when I was put in front of the choice between loyalty either to a group or to the oppressed, I could stand for nothing other than aiding the oppressed and standing alongside them, and I left Jabhat al-Nusrah.

22. I left Jabhat al-Nusrah at the end of Sha’ban (late June 2014) for doctrinal, religious-legal and military reasons, after my efforts at reform met with a dead end…

23. I didn’t come to aid a [jihadist] organization, and I didn’t come to aid a clan that wanted control for itself. I am not some tool for an opportunist to rise up on my back and on the body parts of my brothers. So I left al-Nusrah behind when it left al-nusrah (aid) [for the weak] behind.

24. I waged a grinding war – intellectual and military – with the State (IS). I devoted my pen and sword to them because of nothing other than what I swear before God was their aggression against us, and is there anyone who would deny that?

25. But there were things hidden of which I was not informed, facts that would reach me incorrectly in the midst of the battle with [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi]. In brief, my motives for [waging that] battle differed from those of the leadership.

26. I’ve been quiet for a long time in hopes that I might be able to change things, but nothing of the sort happened.

27. How can I be quiet when mouths have been shut, fearful of discussing the injustice through which we are living.

28. Many friends have fallen today into a sort of confusion that is playing on them. It’s necessary, then, to speak out and advise, so that he who would live might live upon clear proof and he who would be perish might perish upon clear proof. (8:42)

29. The battle we waged against the State was not a fair one. We put forward many martyrs, but we were failed greatly by the leaders of Jabhat al-Nusrah and other factions.

30. I was intent on [ensuring] that Jabhat al-Nusrah in the East – where I was – was a model for other areas. But I was shocked by the betrayal, the failure, the lies and injustice.

31. The region is governed by clans, and Jabhat al-Nusrah was subject to one among them and enjoyed its protection and care. This was an obstacle before me and an obstacle to my aim; I am no soldier for their clans.

32. The clans were tyrannical. They controlled the oil wells and [benefited from the oil] instead of thousands of the homeless, the deprived and the displaced. The clans armed themselves and were oppressive and unjust.

33. The clans grew strong with the arms that came from the oil – the rightful property of the nation – and Jabhat al-Nusrah could do nothing but flatter its clan in al-Shuheil and be harsh with the others.

34. The Shari’ah Commission was formed out of the clans of al-Shuheil, but the Commission exercised its authority over the city of al-Mayadin and did nothing in al-Shuheil!

35. The city of al-Mayadin – the center of Deir al-Zour now – was deprived of electricity, as was the whole al-Shamiyah (the western bank of the Euphrates), over which I was emir. There was constant electricity, on the other hand, on the clans’ river bank, al-Jazirah (the eastern bank of the Euphrates).

36. Al-Mayadin was deprived of even its dignity when the clans’ battalions would storm it with no fear of anyone, even Jabhat al-Nusrah, because these battalions’ funding came from Jabhat al-Nusrah itself!

37. Jabhat al-Nusrah received vast sums of money from the oil wells and the gas facilities, but, to our surprise, we found during our battle with the State that we had no advanced weaponry! Even rifles were scarce! [2]

38. The lion’s share [of blame] for the fall of the East went to poor preparation, planning and administration. The top positions were reserved for the al-Shuheil clan, and the rest answered to them, which would cut into the morale of the soldiers.

39. I used to advise the leadership there and criticize them sharply, but, by God, I became convinced that they were not up to the battle and could benefit from nothing around them. They didn’t have the competence or the capability.

40. The State was working according to planning and precision, while Jabhat al-Nusrah was blundering. Its leadership had no [moves] other than throwing its soldiers into the middle of battle to be killed, just drawing the battle out further.

41. Al-Baghdadi’s emirs would come to the front line and wage war; the leaders of the East, meanwhile, never reached the front lines except for what you would see in Hollywood-style pictures that, by God, were all false.

42. Al-Jolani sent a number of messages to [Jabhat al-Nusrah’s Eastern] Shura Council, of which I was a member, but I knew nothing about them. Even the East’s Shura Council (the Mujahideen Shura Council), I knew nothing about its formation and I was not consulted on it.

43. The Eastern Shura Council (the Mujahideen Shura Council) received almost a million dollars to fight the State from [Saudi preacher and fundraiser Adnan] al-Ar’our, and it was led by Abu Mu’az, whom Jabhat al-Nusrah considered murji’. Remarkable!

44. A Free Syrian Army commander from Jabhat al-Asalah wal-Tanmiyah [3] was named to lead the fight against ISIS, which resulted in a number of withdrawals from Jabhat al-Nusrah and in many being killed.

45. The Free Syrian Army allied with us was an evil omen for us, with their deviancy in battle: stealing from the spoils; robbing houses; embezzling ammunition; some of them even cursed God. And despite all that, the leadership [of Jabhat al-Nusrah] would not abandon them.

46. Jabhat al-Nusrah’s money was spent on the Free Syrian Army, which would come to battle, grab ammunition, then turn around and sell it.

47. The Free Syrian Army and the clans’ battalions retreated and left us a number of times, causing our men to die. I saw their retreats myself on the battlefield.

48. I swore to God in a meeting of the [Jabhat al-Nusrah] Shura [Council] that it was impermissible to fight alongside the Free Syrian Army, but the entire council rejected my view and considered it extremist [4]!

49. Our soldiers would celebrate if the Free Syrian Army and the clans would flee from the battle, because they too saw that they were an albatross on us, but the leadership thought otherwise.

50. I would fight with the Shura Council over the Free Syrian Army and their retreats and their theft from us and how they made us complicit [in their criminality], but I was met with hostility from the leadership, as the matter was now a tribal one.

51. When I was present in battle and fighting alongside the soldiers, the top leadership in the East was on Twitter, waging their wars. Even in sensitive meetings, they couldn’t do without Twitter!

52. The leadership wasn’t fit for the battle; they could only wail on Twitter and receive donations. But going to the battlefields, no, by God, they never did.

53. Based on my study of al-Qaeda’s policies and reading [the writings of] its leaders and thinkers, I swear by God, al-Qaeda never came to the East.

54. The leadership in the East never contributed to the battle, not with planning, not with organization, not with anything. They only used to take pictures of themselves “planning.”

55. In the Shura Council and after the killing of Abu Aishah al-Iraqi, I called for the removal and trial of Abu Mariya al-Qahtani and the emir of the East, Abu Mus’ab, but nothing happened.

56. Every so often, they would install a military commander, and I would say to them, “You have to go the battlefield and plan and contribute,” but they wouldn’t do it.

57. Accusations of disloyalty were characteristic of the East’s leadership, a theory Abu Mariya brought with him from Iraq: everyone is a traitor, everyone is a liar.

58. He accused a number of his military commanders of betrayal and sidelined them, but he trusted the Free Syrian Army and the clans, so he never accused them of anything.

59. When I assumed military command, I went to the commanders who had been accused of treason by Abu Mariya. I restored their honor, which had been insulted, and returned them to the battlefield, where they made a real contribution.

60. Accusations of betrayal touched the most honorable soldiers and brothers there; even those who had sacrificed themselves, orders came down to kill them, and why?!

61. They accused Abu Ahmad al-Shami – the valiant hero who had punished the PKK – and gave the order to kill him because he defied them and said, “Why is Jabhat al-Nusrah reaching a truce with the PKK?!”

62. Abu Ahmad al-Shami was among the best commanders, and he had broad popularity on the battlefield. But as a commander, he was foreign to them, because he would go the battlefield himself.

63. Accusations of treason touched everyone, including me in the end, because I refused to kill our brothers and throw them into battles that would fail, and because I refused to be a tribal soldier.

64. I refused to fight a battle in Kabajeb when the Shura Council asked me to start a battle within 24 hours, without any scouting or preparation.

65. They no longer cared that our brothers would be killed, as many had been killed before by their accursed, irresponsible actions, like what happened in al-Buseirah. The best of our youth [died] there, from al-Shuheil and others.

66. The treasonous clansmen, including their commanders and judges, spread [the rumor] out of spite that I was the one who had retreated from those battles, even though it was the Free Syrian Army that was the model when it came to retreats.

67. One of their evil judges [5] came to the men of al-Shamiyah and told them that Abu al-Leith had been the cause of the retreats. They responded by insulting him, as they knew that I would lead them from the front.

68. I waged the battle and it was the Free Syrian Army that fled and betrayed us, but the tribesman is despicable his whole life, even if he’s a commander or a judge or a sheikh.

69. So Jabhat al-Nusrah’s leadership asked me to fight a battle in Muhassan and to lead the clans. I refused, because this battle was tribal, between the al-Sha’eitat and al-Buseid and the people of Muhassan.

70. I rejected that battle entirely and washed my hands of it, and I wrote a statement about it and warned them from engaging in it. But they paid no need to the bloodshed and waged the fight; many of them were killed, and the State took Muhassan.

71. The people of Muhassan were forced to reconcile with the State, and the scales were weighted towards the State, but the clan commanders had decided that you were either with us or against us.

72. Then there was the battle of Albukamal, and here I returned to the issue of accusations of treason by Abu Mariya and the sinful leadership of the East. Albukamal had given a lot to us, before and after.

73. But they were met by accusations of betrayal. Abu Mariya and the al-Shuheil leadership would repeat incessantly that [Jabhat al-Nusrah in] Albukamal were Dawa’ish (ISIS members), even though they fought alongside us in Markadeh and their best men [6] had been killed.

74. This sort of behavior is low and cheap, and it’s an accursed, filthy attitude that is prevalent new: slanderous accusations of being ISIS.

75. So Abu Malek al-Qalamoun (Abu Malik al-Shami) is “Da’ishi,” and Abu Ahmad al-Shami is “Da’ishi,” and Albukamal’s Jabhat al-Nusrah are “Dawa’ish,” and Dara’a’s Jabhat al-Nusrah are “Dawa’ish,” most of the muhajireen (foreign fighters) are “Dawa’ish,” and al-Katibah al-Khadra are “Dawa’ish,” and most of [Jabhat] Ansar al-Din are “Dawa’ish.”

76. This filthy accusation was ready to be used against anyone who defied them or, at a minimum, couldn’t imagine what the [real] battle was. And today you see the truth of this canned accusation.

77. There was no dirtier way they could have used to bring down everyone who challenged them and to detract from them. In fact, it resembles the tactics of the intelligence services and the tyrants.

78. Going back to the battle of Albukamal and the local Jabhat al-Nusrah ’s oath of allegiance to [ISIS], the clansmen in the Jabhat al-Nusrah leadership called that oath “treason.” I saw it as an appropriate decision, and the lesser evil.

79. Albukamal [Jabhat al-Nusrah cum ISIS] swore not to fight us, but those vengeful ones set out for Albukamal to fight them, and what did they gain? More killing.

80. At that time, I was pushing Abu Mariya and our brothers to reconcile with the State. The State was advancing and we were totally encircled, with no supply lines. I asked them to spare more bloodshed! But they refused.

81. All indications pointed to the battle going in favor of the State and to us collapsing entirely, but I feared for the people here and for the troops. So I asked them to reconcile, as it was high time for them to understand this.

82. We don’t drag the people into our battles. But there’s a theory among Jabhat al-Nusrah’s leadership that works to drag the people into it when the battle is Jabhat al-Nusrah’s alone.

83. When I entered Khasham with almost 40 brothers, all Jabhat al-Nusrah, I told the leaders in Khasham, “If the State asks you for a truce and a reconciliation, then reconcile with them. I didn’t come here to involve you in this.”

84. But they got themselves involved when they called the FSA to the area, and they went to the leadership of Jabhat al-Nusrah and told them this. In the end, they all fled.

85. I refuse to render people homeless; the battle is between us and the State.

86. But, regrettably, they differ totally with this opinion. Their style, then, was for everyone to fight the State alongside us. If we lost, then everyone had to lose. And that is what happened.

87. So when al-Mayadin and al-Shuheil were surrounded and al-Shuheil pledged allegiance [to ISIS], the order came to withdraw the day after.

88. Why did people withdraw? Because al-Shuheil pledged allegiance to its own people.

89. At the time, people were overcome by fear and terror. I was in al-Mayadin that night, and the battle was near, so I announced that I would never pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi, even if I were given the Sun and the Moon.

90. Of course, I had left Jabhat al-Nusrah immediately after the battle of Khasham, which is when everything had become clear to me: the wide-ranging corruption; the dead end for reform; the imminent defeat; that no one would listen to me.

91. I left Jabhat al-Nusrah in, roughly, the middle of Sha’aban (mid-June 2014). I had intended to go on to Aleppo to do something I had been planning for months, join [Jeish] al-Muhajireen [wal-Ansar].

92. I was of the view that the muhajireen (foreign fighters) had to join together and become independent instead of waging internal battles, as the muhajireen had done alongside Sheikh Osama [bin Laden].

93. Sheikh [Osama bin Laden] and the muhajireen with him hadn’t interfered in internal fights, and that was wise. I hoped for this plan to come to fruition, but God chose Dara’a for us.

94. But I call on my muhajireen brothers to join together, given how they understand each other. They should cooperate with other battalions made up of ansar (local fighters), but they should remain independent.

95. In Dara’a, I broke away along with those muhajireen would didn’t want [to remain in] Jabhat al-Nusrah – especially the Jabhat al-Nusrah of the East. We [set ourselves up] alone, and I asked then that the emirs of the East be put on trial.

96. I sat with [Jabhat al-Nusrah’s now-chief shar’i] Dr. Sami al-Oreidi and I warned him about the emirs of the East, especially Abu Mariya. [I said he would] divide their ranks, and that is what happened.

97. A number of men have left Jabhat al-Nusrah in Dara’a because of Abu Mariya, who has no program except for [revenge on] the State – only the State. I already told you about this idea of, “Either with us or against us.”

98. I warned the Doctor about [the eastern leaders’] politics and their approach – that they belong to [al-Qaeda] but slander it day and night. That’s what happened with Abu Mariya [and] Muthar Luweis in front of al-Oreidi, [Jabhat al-Nusrah southern commander] Abu Juleibib and all of Dara’a’s commanders.

99. Slander in secret and reverence in public, that is the ill approach used by Abu Mariya and those Jabhat al-Nusrah emirs from the East with him. They didn’t even spare al-Jolani.

100. According to Abu Mariya, al-Jolani only disagrees with the State in administrative terms, out of his love for command. [Abu Mariya] used to always repeat this, and nobody could deny it.

101. This [behavior] was present among the Jabhat al-Nusrah emirs who [were active] on Twitter, like Abu Mariya and Abu Muhammad Saleh Hama, “Us al-Sara’ al-Shami.”

The Night of Betrayal

They were afraid because evil was their trade

And I was without evil, and without trade

Because I knew their failings

And because they had been traitorous and I had not

102. On the night of Eid al-Fitr, an emissary from Abu Mariya came to meet and requested that I attend a meeting, along with [Jabhat al-Nusrah shar’i] Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti. So we went together.

103. When I entered the meeting, I was surprised to find rifles pointed at me. A treacherous group from the Jabhat al-Nusrah of the East – al-Shuheil, specifically – came to me and told me to surrender my weapon.

104. They say, “We have an order to arrest you.” I told them, “Your emirs mean nothing to me, as do their orders.”

105. But I knew that they were deaf and dumb, only tools in the hands of their emirs. So I handed over my weapon – which I hadn’t planned to use anyway – and I was put in one [of Jabhat al-Nusrah’s] bases as a prisoner.

106. At the same time, the muhajireen with me were also betrayed. They were encircled in the market in Saida, Dara’a, in front of everyone. They were then released, and only two were taken.

107. Abu Mariya, the judges of villainy and the emirs of betrayal lied to Dr. al-Oreidi when they told him that Abu al-Leith was to be put on trial in Deir al-Zour, so al-Oreidi refused to allow them to participate in the matter.

108. I was released after pressure on Abu Mariya from some of the commanders and sheikhs. Even though I demanded again that they be put on trial, they refused. When I repeated the demand to the chief shar’i (al-Oreidi), they refused.

109. They refused to appear before a court because they know that they are tricksters and frauds. Did I mean anything to them in the first place, compared with the hundreds who were killed because of their foolishness?

110. The East had fallen, collapsed totally. There had been tremendous financial, military and administrative corruption. And yet al-Jolani didn’t request a single investigation into the matter.

111. I had meant to announce that I had left Jabhat al-Nusrah since Sha’aban (June). Some brothers advised me not to do so, however, for fear of fitnah (division and infighting). I also received messages from some sheikhs who urged me to remain quiet.

112. I was quiet for a long time, but my silence kept me up at nights. It killed me, especially as I saw them spread lies and distort events on Twitter.

113. Look at the massacre of the al-Sha’eitat [tribe], how they dragged them into the fight with the State, then retreated and left them. They even fired off tweets supporting the al-Sha’eitat. And what did they benefit?

114. They would throw people into the fire just to burn them. They aren’t capable of fighting a battle or planning for it. They can’t make a correct decision.

115. What I swear before God is that there were hidden fingers pushing the battle in the East not to stop. It was possible to stop it, but there were contacts that stoked the fire. The days ahead will reveal them.

Written, may he be held accountable before his Lord, by

Abu al-Leith al-Tabuki

Sultan bin Eissa al-Atwi

[1] I mentioned this previously in my discussion of meeting them in al-Shaddadi (al-Hasakeh).

[2] With sniper rifles, [for example,] we couldn’t find anything other than worn-out rifles that could have been counted on one hand. So where did the money go?

[3] This one [the Jabhat al-Asalah wal-Tanmiyah commander] had also received $500,000 from the [Deir al-Zour] Military Council to fight ISIS. It was a proxy war, without a doubt.

[4] [This happened] even though I hadn’t said that because I considered the Free Syrian Army apostates; rather, because they would run from battle and betray us in combat.

[5] This, even though this slanderous judge had never seen a battle, much less fought in one.

[6] Including the commander Abu Sham, Jabhat al-Nusrah’s military commander in Albukamal, as well as his men, may God accept them.

Abu Mariya al-Qahtani’s response, 23 October 2014:
In the name of God, most gracious and merciful. Regarding this statement from al-Atwi, it is against the East’s jihad. [As for] him accusing our brothers of tribalism, that sort of talk came out of him months ago when the brothers sat him down and accused him of treason. He had been promoting this idea that [we were on our way to] ruin, and he had been tempting and misleading [others]. He wrote this to one of the sheikhs, asking him to announce an end to the fight with ISIS. So the brothers had doubts about him, and they confronted him with everything he had done to spread falsehoods and try to sow division. And despite all this, we thought it enough to remove him, as the battle [against ISIS] was ongoing. The brothers Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti and Abu al-Abbas al-Omani and a number of commanders can bear witness to that. Most of what he said is false. The goal behind it is to cover for his own failure and his flight from the battlefield.

As for what he said slanderously about me, I won’t defend myself. I only say to him, This is the reward for someone who treated you honorably. I won’t pay you any further consideration, just like your brother Abu Dhirr before you, [who spread the same] falseness and immorality. Those better than me have been slandered – Uthman and Ali were defamed by the Sab’iyyah and the Kharijites, and the ranks [of the mujahideen today] are not free from Sab’iyyah and Kharijites. So let us endure what you have done to harm us. That is the way of God.

There’s no shame in having fought the modern Kharijites. In Aleppo, were [those fighting ISIS] clans? Or in the Ghouta? God most high is capable of revealing the hypocrites and of sorting and purifying the ranks of the mujahideen. Jabhat al-Nusrah is still being purified, thanks to God, from the extremists and those driven by worldly lusts.

I don’t want to respond to everything al-Atwi fabricated, but some of my friends asked me to reply and clarify; the statement announcing al-Atwi’s expulsion is available and is sufficient to answer him. But the way he timed the publication of these lies to coincide with some brothers in extremism going to join ISIS, this is a soap opera meant throw al-Nusrah’s ranks into disarray. I say, if there remain 100 sincere men with al-Nusrah, that’s better than having extremists and lackeys of tyrants in its ranks.

The East and its efforts are well-known, and someone who failed can’t cover for his failure with slander and falsehood. History is full of those who retreated and praised themselves. It’s nothing but a tempest this miserable person is creating to entertain himself; hours spent stirring up teenaged supporters of extremists and tyrants on Twitter. The caravan goes on, and we’ve been obliged to stoop to respond to every minor matter, every menial sin and vice. For two years, the Awadi gang (ISIS) and their supporters have spread lies day and night, and we’ve disregarded it. The battlefield of Syria has spit out [their] scum, and the caravan has gone on.

I say to our people in the East, remain determined and suffer those who slander you, who lie about you and fail you. God is the source of all good fortune.

Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti’s response, 24 October 2014:

#For_God_Then_the_Jihad

A “one-eyed” testimonial. And if we were to write that which we swear before God, we would say much of this testimony comes from arrogant self-righteousness, from argument between disputing parties, and from short-sightedness from which the mob benefits. The testimony of two equal disputing parties cannot be taken into consideration [as evidence], either logically or legally. I write here not as an antagonist to anyone; rather, my relationship with the one testifying (al-Atwi) is among the strongest relationships on the battlefield. And I hope that he stays true to his word in saying, “This is the last of what I have, and I’ll close my account forever.” If he had done that before delivering his testimony, it would have been better for Muslims, and for him as well.

[Abu Hassan returned to Twitter ten hours later, this time more critically.]

He wrote about events that took place and embellished them based on his ideas, his deductions and his fanciful suspicions. Some of them he didn’t witness, some he reported as if had total certainty and knowledge of them! I swear to this. I came across a number of contradictions in what he said and the opinions he expressed in what he wrote here and what he said when he was with us. Let him fear God. Brother “Mujahid Jazrawi” sent me his testimony regarding Abu al-Leith (al-Atwi), and it contains a clear statement regarding his character and his positions. I don’t want to be forced to publish it. So let him fear God.

This isn’t the first instance of fitnah (discord) that you’ve (al-Atwi) brought down on our battlefield. We managed the first one, preserved our friendship with you and defended you, even despite ourselves. With this second time, we won’t allow it. To meet God and have Him be satisfied with me and to live in obedience to Him is better than writing some testimonial I’ve filled with my ideas and a response meant to get revenge. Standing for what’s right is better to me than life on Earth.

Abu Omar al-Ageidi’s response, 25 October 2014:

[Translator’s Note: In his original response on Twitter, some of Abu Omar’s numbered tweets were transposed – that is, published out of order. The JustPaste.it compilation of Abu Omar’s tweets linked above reflects that mis-ordering. The sequence has been corrected in the translation below.]

In the name of God, most gracious and merciful. Mighty God said, “Those who invent falsehoods are those who do not believe in the verses of God, and it is they who are the liars.” (16:105)

I’ll start from where this slanderer did, and I’ll clarify some of his lies. He lied to the Islamic nation and to the mujahideen when he said, “#For_God_Then_the_Jihad.” How can you be for God, when everyone – near and far, enemy before friend – knows that everything you’ve written is backwards? Whatever mistakes have happened recently, the cause has been traitorous calls for reconciliation [with ISIS], cowardly retreats, and the distribution of fatwas (religious rulings) that it’s permissible to repent to the Kharijites (ISIS).

Sultan al-Atwi, if you wrote those and you’re still al-Sham (Syria), then what can I say about this sort of immorality in a dispute; if you plan to return to your country, God will reveal and disgrace you.

First: So that everyone knows, I hadn’t wanted to write about [al-Atwi] before, even though I had known all the hidden details of his betrayal. I had been satisfied with what the eastern command published in its statement removing him.

Second: I was responsible for communication between Jabhat al-Nusrah’s [geographic] sectors. I would see all the messages, and I was present in the operations room. As an i’lami (media representative), I had total knowledge of the Shura Council.

Third: What al-Atwi wrote is mostly fabricated, falsified, and inverted. As for administrative, military and organizational mistakes, no field of jihad or active [jihadist] group is without them. On what he said about the Free Syrian Army, he’s turned the truth upside down. After he assumed [military command] and saw the pressure of military work, he said – in front of everyone – “I’m proud to be a soldier under the command of Abu Feisal [from Liwa] Bashair [al-Nasr].”

[Al-Atwi] said he didn’t want to fight the Dawa’ish (ISIS). Lies – he was the first shar’i who went to al-Shaddadi (al-Hasakeh) with [Jabhat al-Nusrah’s commander for the East] Sheikh Abu Mus’ab al-Shuheil to resolve the dispute. He came back totally convinced that ISIS wanted to fight, that ISIS was addressing all factions with threatening, escalatory language and that they had to be fought. Brothers [Abu Hassan] al-Kuwaiti and Mujahid Jazrawi can testify to that.

He said that the overall military [commander was from Liwa] Bashair al-Nasr. When [Abu Feisal] came up in conversation, he had said, “This is the bravest man, a wise man. We could never afford to lose him. He deserves to lead the battle.” He used to always say, “Hello, my emir,” and praise him. So what happened, you liar?!

Then he says that the military men were shut out. The ones he said were arrested in Dara’a weren’t removed for those reasons he mentioned, and they know that. He said that brother Abu Ahmad al-Sham was removed from his position, when everyone knows that he had refused to be installed as military [commander] to start with – then he stopped on the grounds that there was a Free Syrian Army truce with the PKK in Aleppo and Jabhat al-Nusrah had signed onto one of the clauses! The battle was ongoing, and he was replaced. That’s why he was replaced, not like what the plaintiff (al-Atwi) said, and everyone knows that. Then when [Abu Ahmad] was replaced, [al-Atwi] rose up and said, “Didn’t I tell you he wasn’t fit for military command!”

As for his story of reaching Jabhat al-Nusrah in the East’s Shura Council – going from the shar’i in al-Mayadin (Deir al-Zour) to the emir of al-Mayadin to the emir of al-Shamiyah, that was one of those administrative and organizational mistakes. He would dupe everyone with his false insight and his honeyed talk, taking advantage of every group member’s weaknesses. That’s why he was promoted.

He started to look at the fighters and say the battle was a failure militarily. They said to him, “Here’s the battlefield!” So he asked for what he needed and he was provided it, then he waged a battle in which most of the brothers from al-Mayadin died: Sheikh Qasem al-Sa’ran; Sheikh Abu Dujanah from al-Shuweit; lots of commanders were martyred, Jazrawis (Saudis/Gulfis) and others; the shar’i Abu al-Dihdah. [Al-Atwi] cried into his radio, “Whoever believes in God and the End of Days, let him charge!” So Brother Abu Zeinab al-Jurzi advanced and answered the call alongside the group with him, and that was in the presence of Abu Mus’ab al-Shuheil and Dr. Abu al-Baraa al-Shami. This was [al-Atwi’s] first battle with the Kharijites, even though it was two months before [Jabhat al-Nusrah left Deir al-Zour]. Great men died because of his mistakes in that battle.

After that shock, he began to pull away from the military theater little by little on the grounds that al-Shamiyah was in danger. So he started to spread the idea that al-Shamiyah shouldn’t fight in al-Jazirah, despite the Kharijites’ advance on al-Jazirah and the fact that it was seeing the fiercest battles. Because of the intensity of the battle in al-Jazirah, Sheikh Abu Mus’ab al-Shuheil asked him to open up the battle of Khasham. About 40 fighters were brought in from the Euphrates to Khasham, so he brought them across [the river] and sat on the bank of the river and claimed to be commanding the battle. Then Brother Hazem al-‘Askari called Abu Mus’ab al-Shuheil and told him that the situation in Khasham was under control but they needed reinforcements. So Abu Mus’ab went to reinforce Khasham and found al-Atwi out of the battle. He pressed him to join in battle along his soldiers or to go in his place, as the battle of Khasham was a strategic one, given its proximity to the Kharijites’ command center.

After that, there was an order for Jabhat al-Nusrah to withdraw from Khasham at night, and al-Atwi intended to withdraw in the afternoon, according to Abu al-Abbas al-Omani. The order to withdraw from Khasham came like a lightning bolt. There had been a comprehensive, well-studied plan to storm al-Sour under the command of Abu al-Yaman, in addition to another, simultaneous battle in which the “Seven Kilometer” facilities in al-Hatlah and Murat would be charged. Sheikh Abu Hazem al-Balad charged al-Hatlah and laid waste to them, Abu al-Yaman stormed the al-Hreijiyah and al-Fidein area and swept seven villages, and the military commander and shar’i Abu Feisal al-Hajar was martyred. After all that, the mujahideen’s retreat from Khasham ruined the entire plan, and things started to go progressively downhill in the region.

After that, al-Atwi was asked to open up the battle of Kabajeb with the help of [fighters from] Albukamal and the western bank [of the Euphrates]. The fighters spent 15 days waiting for the battle, and al-Atwi didn’t move a muscle. The Shura Council met and demanded he clarify the reasons for delaying the battle, and he said that the scouting hadn’t been completed yet. Abu Muhammad al-Shuheil replied, “This scout is a traitor. He’s ISIS.” Al-Atwi replied coldly, “Your words are meaningless.” There was a fight, and Brother Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti was appointed to adjudicate the issue and it was settled.

After that al-Atwi was changed out and he started to want revenge, so he started to tell those close to him that the battle was a tribal one and that it was in al-maslahah not to fight the State. He was going to men in the villages and telling them that and, by God, because of this traitor the Kharijites advanced to Muhassan.

Then the men of al-Toub rose up. They wanted to charge Muhassan or at least put in place a line of defense. So they were given arms, and they numbered in the tens. Then this bad luck charm (al-Atwi) went to them and convinced them to reconcile [with IS] and that they didn’t have the strength to fight Da’ish, so the men of al-Toub stood down. Even now, this traitor says that’s he in favor of reaching a truce with Da’ish and not pushing the villages into a fight with them – by God, what’s more treasonous?

Then he mentions the killing of the leaders of Muhassan – and he compares them with the leaders of al-Shuheil. By God, if he were responsible for this operation, during which these heads of oppression and raucous immorality from the Military Council were killed, let him be proud for the rest of his life. But personal revenge and spite led him not to distinguish between those heads and those who pledged allegiance after al-Nusrah pulled out, after they were made to choose. After that, most of those who pledged allegiance left, and now he wants to go back to fight most of them?

As for the matter of the al-Sha’eitat [tribe], this traitor sees everyone else as traitors, too. By God, we didn’t leave them – before we pulled out with all the commanders, we gave them the choice. The matter was put forward with all transparency, and the conclusion was that the al-Sha’eitat’s leaders would leave with us and the tribe would reach a conditional reconciliation [with ISIS]. So you, who inflamed this dispute, who sold them out?

He said that the [Shari’ah] Commission was formed from the al-Shuheil [tribe]. He knows, and people know, that he’s a liar. The Commission was formed out of all the factions and all the villages. Let’s look back at the battles of Conoco and al-Omar [oil field] to know all the factions that participated in the Commission, distributed all along the Euphrates. I don’t want to tally them all so I don’t run on.

Then there’s the issue of oil. We don’t deny that some of the tribes were the ones who controlled the oil. The Commission was only formed after the corruption that happened and was formed for that reason. Those benefiting from the oil were thieves, mercenaries, and most of the clans. When the Commission started to take hold of the wells, the first to hand over oil wells to the Commission were the al-Shuheil, and then there were steps taken to take over the wells from the rest of the clans. There were occasionally clashes, and the oil stopped [flowing] for months. As for the Commission sanctioning [aggression against] al-Mayadin, like he claims, God knows that this was after blood had run in the streets and a number of its clansmen were killed. The Commission intervened to solve the problem, and until now the people of al-Mayadin thank the Commission for stopping the bloodshed between the al-Smakah and al-Waheibi families and reconciling them. This was even though this issue had hung over them for almost 100 years.

We’d like to note that those he describes as munbatiheen (prostrating themselves) are those who led the battles. The military emir in the fight against the Kharijites was Abu Muhammad al-Shuheil. He was shot, and he’s still suffering from it. Before him, there was the martyr “Bladen” – Abu Muayyad al-Shuheil – the military [commander] of the countryside; the noble martyr Abu al-Fadl Tayyanah; the lion Abu Jandal; the shar’i for the Deir al-Zour countryside, Abu al-Hassan al-Hajar; the military [commander] Abu Aishah; the martyred military [commander] Abu Mikhlif al-Shuheil; Abu Hamzah al-Tibah; the military [commander] Abu Sham; the crusher of Khawarij, Abu Raddad; and others. Tens of men from the whole countryside, may God accept them. As for Sheikh Abu Mus’ab al-Shuheil, he was present at most battles. There are those who roar over the radio from their holes, and there are those who stand silently to man the fronts and observe the battle.

Whoever claims to be faultless, writing poetry to praise himself and calling others ostriches – take it easy, al-Atwi. Those lions used to charge checkpoints at night and organize protests in the day.

I only wrote this after he ignited this dispute. God knows I wanted to publish it three months ago but my emirs stopped me for what they saw as al-maslahah.

Sam Heller is a Washington-based writer and analyst focused on Syria. Follow him on Twitter: @AbuJamajem

GUEST POST: Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar Shar’is Debate Islamic Rule Inside and Outside the ‘Islamic State’

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By Sam Heller

Below we see Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) shar’i “Abu Azzam al-Najdi’s” frank rationale for leaving JMA to join the Islamic State (IS / ISIS). Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar is a mostly foreign fighter battalion that has been active in Aleppo. It is best known for its Caucasian (e.g., Chechen) contingent, but it also counts Arabs among its ranks — it recently absorbed the heavily Saudi al-Katibah al-Khadra (the Green Battalion), and Abu Azzam’s nom du guerre indicates that he hails from the Najd (east Saudi Arabia). Abu Azzam had been JMA’s shar’i and, at least in Arabic media, its main fundraising point of contact. Saudi fundraiser and ideologue Abdullah al-Muheisini had recommended as late as April that any would-be foreign fighters should reach out specifically to Abu Azzam.

Abu Azzam defected to ISIS alongside a substantial chunk of al-Katibah al-Khadra, including its commander Omar Seif and at least one of its shar’is. (Seif had apparently just been detained by the Syrian Revolutionaries Front on suspicions, now vindicated, that he was linked to ISIS. Other jihadists intervened to broker his release.)

As can be seen below, there are a number of strains to Abu Azzam’s thinking, or at least what he’s willing to disclose of it. Some of it reads like picking a winner: on the one hand, an endorsement of ISIS’s success in building a functional Islamic state; on the other, disillusionment with the dysfunction of rebel-controlled areas and a clear distrust of non-jihadist rebels. The current U.S./Coalition campaign on ISIS apparently figures into his logic, too, pushing him to advocate jihadist solidarity with ISIS to better resist “the nations of disbelief.”

ISIS and pro-ISIS accounts have been crowing about successive jihadist defections to ISIS, doing everything they can to advertise ISIS’s continuing momentum. When it comes to drawing away foreign fighters, I suspect they’re right – Abu Azzam is not the first to defect to ISIS, and I doubt he’ll be the last.

 

Translation follows:

I’ve been asked a lot about my reason for leaving [Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar] and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.

I would say, frankly, that no one has a successful plan to implement God’s law except the Islamic State. It has established Islamic courts and implemented the hudoud (Islamic criminal punishments) in its territory. Meanwhile, if we go and look at the other side, we find not only sincere battalions but also – on the same land –  criminal battalions and apostate battalions supported by the military councils that call openly for the establishment of a democratic state. Then we fight on the fronts while they work behind us to carry out their projects and plots… Yes, there are those who work [at that], but they’ll never succeed – although only God knows – because of their division and fragmentation. Even the courts that have been established have seen what they’ve seen because of nepotism and what have you…

You might say that the [Islamic] State has made mistakes. I say that they themselves admit these mistakes, and they work to rectify them and hold accountable the responsible party. They’ve established Islamic courts and implemented the hudoud, so you see nothing here but the rule of Islamic law. Stores close at prayer time, women are modest in the markets, nobody sells cigarettes or anything else.

I say this is not the time for division with the Islamic state. The nations of disbelief have gathered against us, so we must come to [the Islamic State’s] aid. This is not the time for the division of “groups.” Rather, it is the time for solidarity and union.

Below are Abu Azzam’s original tweets:

Below we see Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar’s top shar’i “Mu’tasim Billah al-Madani” rebut the arguments of defected shar’i “Abu Azzam al-Najdi.” Mu’tasim Billah’s response is itself enlightening, insofar as it provides a window into how jihadists understand intra-rebel dynamics and their own legitimacy.

Since his defection to ISIS, former Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar shar’i Abu Azzam has continued to appeal to other jihadists to join him in what he argues is ISIS’s successful, coherent experiment of Islamic governance. He has emphasized ISIS’s most visible achievements, e.g., the implementation of the hudoud, a set of Islamic criminal punishments. He has also denigrated the dysfunction of rebel-held areas and the fact that “sincere” – that is, jihadist – fighters are sent to the fronts to be chewed up while crooks and agents of the West plot to undermine them.

Mu’tasim Billah answers by pointing to jihadists’ preferred model of Islamic law being implemented across northern Syria. In sharp contrast with the alarm of many inside and outside Syria over ISIS’s videotaped stoning of an allegedly adulterous woman in eastern Hama earlier this week, Mu’tasim Billah’s first example of God’s will being done is a stoning in Saraqeb (Idlib). He also provides a sort of map of northern jihadist areas of control, including many areas now administered by the Jabhat al-Nusrah-linked Dar al-Qadaa (Judiciary).

All of these examples flag a shift within Syria’s jihadist camp, one that seems driven by an evolving Jabhat al-Nusrah (also known as al-Qaeda in the Levant). Nusrah had previously adhered to a sort of jihadist minimalism, at least temporarily declining to implement harsh social codes like the hudoud and backing consensual structures that met a minimum level of Islamic legitimacy, such as the Aleppo Shari’ah Commission. Now, in a seeming attempt to shore up its own credibility and to retain the loyalty of jihadists who might otherwise defect to ISIS, Nusrah has been behaving more and more like circa-2013 ISIS. Nusrah is now engaging some less-reputable nationalist brigades with the same sort of sharp-elbows approach ISIS used in summer and fall of last year. It’s also begun to adopt a similar fast-forward approach to law and governance that is, arguably, religiously unsound in wartime.

Despite warnings from jihadist reformers like Nusrah’s Abu Mariyah al-Qahtani about the need for jihadist groups to purge “ghulaat” (extremists) from their ranks, Nusrah and other groups seem to have responded to ISIS’s ideological threat by becoming more like ISIS – catering to their own most extreme members by competing to implement Islamic rule here and now. That’s why we see Mu’tasim Billah mustering these examples when arguing with Abu Azzam; in an intra-jihadist argument, stonings are a badge of pride.

(Also of note: That the areas Mu’tasim Billah says are either under jihadist control or that of jihadists’ nationalist rebel frenemies like Jamal Ma’rouf are so discombobulated geographically is just further evidence of what a patchwork things are in the rebel north.)

 

Translation follows:

I bring you good news…

The hudoud (Islamic criminal punishments) have begun to be implemented. The brothers in Saraqeb (Idlib) carried out a sentence of death by stoning…

You know that in the sincere brothers’ areas, they’re the ones in control. The Dar al-Qadaa (Judiciary) in Hreitan (Aleppo) and the surrounding area is what governs. And in Saraqeb, Sarmin, Sarmada, Harem, Salqin (all western Idlib), the coast (Lattakia) and Khan Sheikhoun (southern Idlib), the ones in control are our brothers.

[Liwa Shuhada Badr’s Khalid] Hayani doesn’t reach beyond [Aleppo neighborhood] Beni Zeid, [the Syrian Revolutionary Front’s Jamal] Ma’rouf is in Jebel al-Zawiyah (Idlib), and [Harakat] Hazm are in their areas…

Sam Heller is a Washington-based writer and analyst focused on Syria. Follow him on Twitter: @AbuJamajem

Hizballah Cavalcade: The Shia Militant Response to Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr’s Death Sentence

NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.

 

The Shia Militant Response to Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr’s Death Sentence

By Phillip Smyth

Nimr al-Nimr

Ayatollah Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, an outspoken radical Saudi Arabian Shia cleric, has been the center of controversy and brewing conflict between Shia protesters, militant Shia groups of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and their respective Sunni governments. According to a 2012 article by Toby Matthiesen, al-Nimr was, “long a peripheral figure in the local Shia power struggle but now seems to have become the most popular Saudi Shia cleric among local youth.”1 His cause and image is spreading across the Middle East as the latest example of Sunni oppression of Shia in the region and his recent death sentence has become a potent rallying cry for regional Shia militant organizations, particularly those with links to Iran.

Arrested in 2012, Nimr was accused by the Saudi government’s Special Criminal Court of making sectarian statements to cause strife, inviting foreign intervention (shorthand for Iranian influence), and disobeying the king. Following his 2012 arrest, thousands took to the streets and Saudi police shot and killed two protesters.2 In mid-October 2014, Nimr was sentenced to be “crucified”, a process where the sheikh will be beheaded and his body displayed.3

Protests in Saudi began in early 2011 and in part addressed anti-Shia discrimination suffered by the group in the Shia majority area in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province; primarily zones around the Shia-majority towns and villages near the city of Qatif.4 Following the 2011 Saudi intervention in Bahrain, protests against the Saudi government increased in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia among Shia protesters.5 Following the 2011-2012 protests, links between Bahrain’s and Saudi Arabia’s protest movement spilled over into the more militant circles which actively promoted Nimr’s defiant stance and a hope to combine their fronts against common foes.

Of further interest are Nimr’s own ideological leanings and how they may relate to Shia militant responses. In Frederic Wehrey’s Sectarian Politics in the Gulf, the sheikh is described as a follower of the late Ayatollah Muhammad al-Shirazi.6 Shirazi was one of the founders of a radical Shia political school of thought referred to as the “Shiraziyya.” Shiraziyya clerics have been some of the most influential in the Arab Shia world. Initially al-Shirazi agreed with the Islamic revolutionary ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini, only to split from Khomeini over issues regarding how the new Islamic state (in Iran post 1979 revolution) should be led.7 In one BBC Arabic report, Nimr had been accused by Riyadh of attempting to spread Wilayat al-Faqih.8 Absolute Wilayat al-Faqih is the Khomeinist concept that serves as the basis for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nevertheless, it was not clarified whether this was the type of Wilayat al-Faqih Nimr was accused of propagating.

Despite the history of strife between Shirazi’s school of thought and that of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, al-Nimr appeared to increase public support for Tehran and send other more mixed messages. In 2008, he had also reportedly stated he supported Iran’s nuclear program by saying any attack against it should be met by a response from the Islamic world. That same year, he also said that Saudi Shia may need to call on foreign support (implying Iran) to help press their issues in Saudi Arabia.9 Later in 2009, Nimr reportedly called for secession, stating during a sermon, “Our dignity is more precious than the unity of this land.”10 His statement came as a response to discrimination against Shia in the kingdom and reflected possible repercussions if certain demands made by Shia protesters were not addressed.

Since 2013, in a piecemeal fashion, social media accounts associated with Iranian proxy groups in Iraq have promoted the images and other supportive statements for Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr.11 While this does not necessitate that Nimr is a true ally or proxy of Tehran, his message and influence is likely seen by Iran as a cause to be promoted in that country’s wider struggle for the leadership of Shia Islam and as a counter to Saudi Arabia.

Nimr’s deep links and strong voice within the Saudi Shia community, particularly among youthful radicals and other more non-violent protestors, has led to Shia militant groups championing his cause from Bahrain and Iraq. Even in Yemen, Shia supporters of Ansar Allah, more commonly known as the Houthis, even launched demonstrations for the jailed cleric.12 Some Bahraini militant groups, which view the struggle of their coreligionists in a geographically close region of Saudi Arabia, as part and parcel to their conflict with the Khalifa monarchy and their Saudi government supporters. Additionally, powerful Iranian proxy groups based in Iraq—which have also maintained anti-Saudi and anti-Bahraini government narratives—have taken to issuing stern threats against Riyadh for his sentence.

The Violent Replies From Saudi Arabia’s and Bahrain’s Militants

Bahraini militant groups demonstrated the most concerted effort in terms of orchestrating violent retorts to Nimr’s jailing and sentence. While other threats and attacks were conducted since the start of 2014, this piece will focus on more recent threats and attacks beginning in the summer of 2014.

Bahrain’s Saraya al-Mukhtar (SaM), a group which once said the Saudi Shia of the Qatif and the Shia of Bahrain constituted one people with common foes, launched the most attacks over the longest period specifically addressing Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr’s arrest, trial, and death sentence.

Starting in August, SaM attacked an electricity tower in Ar-Rifā near a Bahraini military base. The group filmed the attack and stated it had been a warning related to the imprisonment and trial of Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr. Around the same time, SaM also began an online countdown for the Nimr verdict and increased their threats against Saudi Arabia. The group also ratcheted up it’s pro-Nimr messaging with the release of numerous images.

This messaging coincided with Saraya al-Mukhtar making its first direct threat against U.S. military personnel in Bahrain on August 11. Through an image posted to Facebook, SaM stated that, “The American cover on al-Saud and Al_Khalifa crimes,,Marines in bahrain will pay the price. [sic]” The message essentially claimed that the U.S. was the real backer for the Khalifa and Saud monarchies. As a result, they bore equal responsibility and could be targeted.

Nimr al-Nimr2

Figure 1: Saraya al-Mukhtar’s anti-American message posted on August 11, 2014.

Nimr al-Nimr3

Figure 2: A Saraya al-Mukhtar photo for Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr posted on August 8, 2014. The poster reads: “Sheikh Nimr[‘s trial and poor treatment] will make us put all options on the table.”

Nimr al-Nimr4

 

Figure 3: A Saraya al-Mukhtar photo posted on August 10, 2014. This poster reads: [in the red box] “A warning from Saraya al-Mukhtar to the mafia of the Sauds [in white text] Harming Sheikh Nimr will make us put all options [on the table]. Harming the Faqih Nimr means every single Saudi national will enter our country in a coffin.”

Nimr al-Nimr5

 

Figure 4: A Saraya al-Mukhtar photo for Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr posted on August 11, 2014. The poster reads: “Do not hesitate, Do not underestimate, No red lines.. after [the] discrimination [against] the Faqih al-Nimr.”

On September 16, SaM announced it had planted 6 explosive devices in retaliation for al-Nimr’s incarceration. Albeit, these bombs did not target U.S. interests and there was little confirmation as to whether any devices were actually planted.

Nimr al-Nimr6

Figure 5: Saraya al-Mukhtar’s September 16 claim to have planted 6 bombs.

Nimr al-Nimr7

Figure 6: Saraya al-Mukhtar’s claim of 2 attacks on October 18, 2014.

Then on October 9, SaM claimed to conduct an attack in the town of Karana, Bahrain utilizing an improvised firearm. SaM’s claim of responsibility stated they attacked, “herds of mercenaries” (shorthand for Bahraini police and other security entities). On October 15, SaM claimed to have launched attacks in Sanabis and Aker, Bahrain targeting “mercenaries”. In another statement from that day, the group threatened, “The occupying mafia of al-Saud and al-Khalifa [would face]…consequences for the death sentence.” Later, on October 18, SaM claimed two attacks, referring to them as “Revenge of the Faqih [an expert in Islamic jurisprudence] Nimr.” SaM’s statement declared that it had injured “ranks of the enemy occupier.”

Nimr al-Nimr8

Figure 7: SMS’s claim of attack in honor of Sheikh Nimr.

Bahraini militant group, Saraya al-Muqawama al-Sha’biya (SMS), also claimed an attack against targets in honor of al-Nimr. On October 16 (albeit, the official statement says October 17), SMS referred to an attack as the, “Nimr 1 Operations .” During the “Nimr 1” attacks, SMS stated they had targeted communications towers and an ATM.

In Saudi Arabia, resistance to the verdict and Nimr’s imprisonment took on an approach of sporadic attacks against police checkpoints. While claims of responsibility for the attacks were rarely issued, they were often launched after demonstrators protesting Nimr’s imprisonment were subject to Saudi crackdowns (some violent). In fact, one late September attack occurred in Nimr’s hometown of al-Awamiyah.13

It would appear that attacks in Bahrain and possibly in Saudi Arabia’s Shia populated areas will increase. While often small scale and non-deadly in nature, there is the potential any upsurge in attacks could cause further unrest. Bahraini militants have already committed to “responding” to Nimr’s imprisonment and sentence.

Iraqi Shia Militias Issue Threats

Nimr al-Nimr9

Figure 8: A photo circulated on some Iraqi Shia militia accounts. The picture combines the photos of Ayatollah al-Nimr (left), the logo for Kata’ib Hizballah (center), and Saudi rulers, including King Abdullah (bottom right).

Two of Iran’s many active Shia militia proxies in Iraq, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) and Kata’ib Hizballah, released anti-Saudi threats in response to Nimr’s sentence on October 15, 2014 and October 17, 2014, respectively. Kata’ib Hizballah, a U.S. State Department foreign terrorist organization, has had a long history of issuing threats against Sunni Gulf states and even launched a series of attacks against occupying U.S. forces in Iraq to show solidarity with Bahraini protesters. KSS’s social media had also praised Saraya al-Mukhtar’s attacks in Bahrain.14 One of Iran’s other main Iraqi Shia proxies, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, utilized their political branch, the Sadiqoun Bloc (Kutla al-Sadiqoun) to express their own threats against Riyadh. MP Hasan Salem of the Sadiqoun Bloc said there would be “consequences” for Saudi Arabia after the verdict.15

Intriguingly, SaM’s claims that America bore responsibility for the actions of the Saudi and Bahraini governments were also echoed in Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s released statement. KSS claimed that it was the U.S. which was behind terrorist attacks in Iraq and that along with Sheikh Nimr’s sentence, was the culmination of a wider conspiracy to pressure the Shia.

Another less well-known organization, Kata’ib Hizballah-Al-Mujahidoun, (not to be confused with Kata’ib Hizballah), offered other direct threats. Iraq’s Al-Masalah News claimed that Kata’ib Hizballah-Al-Mujahidoun was holding three Saudi hostages which the group threatened to execute if the Saudis executed al-Nimr.16 The Secretary General of Kata’ib Hizballah-Al-Mujahidoun, Sheikh Abbas al-Muhamidawi, also threatened his group would kill any Saudi the group detains or captures and also promised that “the Kata’ib Hizballah in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen will have a response which they will not expect.”17 It is important to remember that al-Muhamidawi has offered other incendiary comments in the past. In December 2012, he announced that Kurds should be removed from southern Iraq.18 In July 2014, Muhamidawi also threatened Saudi Arabia with rocket attacks and that the Iraqi government should close the U.S. and Turkish embassies in Iraq.19

With threats coming from main and lesser known Shia jihadist elements, there is the potential for increased violence against Saudi and/or Bahraini interests in Iraq.

Translation of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s October 15, 2014 Statement20:

Nimr al-Nimr10

 

Figure 9: The original KSS statement about the group’s reaction to the execution ruling for Ayatollah al-Nimr.

At a time [when] the forces of evil are pouring [down] on our country, [and] in the time of international conspiracies which are being led by the world’s imperialist powers, primarily al-Shaytan al-Akbar (The Great Satan) America, which want to destroy the land of holy shrines, at this time comes the verdict against Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in one of the Saudi courts. This verdict comes in line with the thinking of this sectarian kingdom called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Resistance of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada condemns this unfair verdict, which proves how deep the sectarian crisis [is and] that the al-Saud regime is filled with hatred against Ahlul al-Bayt (People of the House of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad). Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada calls on the Iraqi government to take responsibility and sever all ties with the Wahhabist Kingdom of Evil [Saudi Arabia].

Also on this occasion, if these [Saudi] authorities do not reconsider this appalling execution verdict, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada announces that they will be targeting every single Saudi establishment (infrastructure and human), and they will not spare any effort in burning and destroying everything that is related to this oppressive tyranny. Also Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada will also mention that the people of Ahlul al-Bayt are in a state of being besieged and are under pressure. The last of this pressure were the attacks of terrorists and the role of the Shaytan al-Akbar in it. Additionally, the media fear mongering about the size of ISIS gangs and the [media] attempts to make it look as if the dear capital Baghdad is about to fall [added to this pressure].

Translation of Kata’ib Hizballah’s October 17, 2014 Statement21:

Nimr al-Nimr11

 

Figure 10: Kata’ib Hizballah’s original statement following Ayatollah al-Nimr’s sentence of execution.

[This is] another time the rulers of al-Saud are expressing their lack of care for all of the legitimate and humanitarian values by issuing an unfair verdict to execute the Mujahid Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. [This verdict] aims to silence the mouths and terrorize the ones who exposed their unfair practices as well as the ones who demand basic rights for the people of Nejd and al-Hijaz.

At [this] time we denounce the silence of Western governments that pretend to be defending human rights and guarantee the freedom of expression, yet do not exercise pressure on any of its agents “the oil sheikhs” to have them stop the annihilation campaigns against persecuted people. We also warn the governing family in Nejd and Hijaz that harming Sheikh Nimr will mean the launch of revenge and punishment operations [by Kata’ib Hizballah] and these operations will target members of the ruling family. They will get their punishment when they least expect it and their palaces and fortified walls will not protect them. Let them ask their masters [the West] and slaves [regional proxies] about how truthful we are as we are the sons of Ali and Husayn and that is pride enough.

NOTES:
_____________

1 See: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/23/saudi-arabia-shia-protesters.

2 See: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/11/saudi-funeral-al-felfel-idINDEE86A06020120711.

3 See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29627766 and http://www.voanews.com/content/death-sentence-for-saudi-cleric-sparks-protests/2487771.html.

4 See: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/23/175051345/in-saudi-arabia-shiite-muslims-challenge-ban-on-protests.

5 See: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-16/saudi-arabia-demonstrators-hold-rallies-in-al-qatif-awwamiya.html.

6 Frederic M. Wehrey, Sectarian Politics in the Gulf From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), P. 118.

7 Khomeini supported a concept of rule that created the position of an absolutist Supreme Leader whereas Shirazi supported a council of clerics to rule. See: Toby Jones, “Saudi Arabia,” in Assaf Moghadam (ed.), Militancy and Political Violence in Shiism: Trends and Patterns, (New York: Routledge, 2012), Pp. 139-144.

8See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arabic/interactivity/2014/10/141016_comments_saudi_nimer.

9 Frederic M. Wehrey, Sectarian Politics in the Gulf From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013) P. 118.

10 See: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/apr/1/saudi-government-cracks-down-on-shiite-dissiden-1/.

11 Personal observations. This is particularly the case on accounts linked to Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, and Kata’ib Hizballah. Though, accounts promoting Lebanese Hizballah have rarely featured Nimr’s image.

12 See: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/10/18/uk-yemen-crisis-saudi-idUKKCN0I706H20141018.

13 See: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-arabia-1295961083.

14 See: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1486659381565338&id=1425347187696558.

15 See: http://alghadpress.com/ar/news/21989/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%82%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A8%D8%AD%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%AE.

16 See: http://almasalah.com/ar/NewsDetails.aspx?NewsID=39853.

17 See: http://www.alsumaria.tv/news/113521/%D8%AD%D8%B2%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D8%A5%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7/ar.

18 See: http://www.dw.de/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B7%D9%87%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%8A-%D8%AC%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A9-%D8%B6%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9/a-15875782.

19 See: http://www.alnahar-news.com/index.php?news=3530.

20 Note: Translation has been slightly cleaned-up so it can be more easily read by English speakers.

21 Note: Translation has been slightly cleaned-up so it can be more easily read by English speakers.

Jihadology is a personal project of Aaron Y. Zelin and is not associated with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Translations

To inquire about translations for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

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