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GUEST POST: “Hide These Jihadists That I Can’t See: The French Volunteers In Syria”

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.

Hide These Jihadists That I Can’t See: The French Volunteers In Syria


By Stéphane Mantoux

Thanks to Timothy Holman and Yves Trotignon for their help in writing this article.

This article was originally published in French for Alliance Geostrategique and cross-posted at Historicoblog. Alliance Geostrategique and Stéphane Mantoux, the author of the article and the one who translated it to English, has given permission to Jihadology to exclusively publish the English translation.

The case of French who left to fight in Syria poses a particular problem. It really became visible (through the media, in particular) in 2013, when the number of volunteers began growing substantially. Like other European contingents, jihad in Syria is the largest movement of its kind since the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. However, based on the total population of France or even the Muslim population of the relevant age group, the movement is not a groundswell or a massive exodus[1] and it can also be noted that it has accelerated since the summer of 2013 , which worries the authorities, and some experts, about the return of jihadists. But I must say that so far, the information was very sparse. The  Minister of Interior, Manuel Valls, has made a number of statements going back to  May 2013, about the French figures involved in jihad in Syria and most recently in January 2014 saying that a total of 700 in all, involved in one way or another, since 2011. Figures are difficult to verify, but it seems credible and at the least not that exaggerated. The latest study of ICSR, a British institute specializing on the issue of foreign jihadists, dated from December 17, 2013, placed the maximum estimate for France at 413 individuals[2]. Israelis believe that the last figure given by Manuel Valls and F. Hollande is overestimated[3]. Yet what we can know from clearly identified cases shows that the French example does not differ fundamentally from other European contingents of volunteers, except some minor differences[4]. Recruitment, rather wide for the age and motivation at the beginning, seems to have been mainly young men, 20-35 years, more determined and more radical in their choices in the field. It involves both people known for their earlier commitment and often monitored, but also many men or teenagers who have succumbed to the radical message, including issued on the web, without the phenomenon is limited to marginalized people socially. Like all other contingents , the majority of French volunteers joined the two jihadist groups, al-Nusra front (official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria since November 2013) and ISIS, exposed since 3rd January, 2014 to the assaults of other rebel formations, including the al- Nusra Front itself. The starting zones are fairly well identified: the big cities (which again corresponds to other countries), Paris, Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, and Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing, with a majority of departures spontaneous or organized solo, without they necessarily resort to organized networks, the only exception being the southeast (which is a notable difference this time with other states, such as Belgium, where more structured networks involved in the routing or radicalization of the volunteers). The French jihadists are also, once there, quite present on social networks, for the purposes of recruitment, propaganda or to keep in touch with families, as discussed at the end of this article.

An early advertisement for a diverse recruitment (2012-summer 2013)

In France, from the second half of 2012 the press started to worry about the issue of jihadi candidates to go to Syria. However, from the month of May 2012, 3 young men were arrested at the airport in Saint-Etienne as they prepared to leave for Turkey … with holsters, walkie-talkies and night vision goggles[5]. Le Figaro mentions “a few tens of departure” in October 2012 and mentions Dr. Jacques Beres, who treated several French in a rebel hospital in Aleppo, a city that insurgents have been fighting for since 2012[6]. Some also do not hide their admiration for Mohamed Merah. The same newspaper had also spoken in spring 2012 of 6 French arrested by Lebanese security at Beirut airport, and an apparent attempt to enter Syria. However, the domestic intelligence services began to sound the alarm as early as spring 2011.

Information and news articles became more numerous in the spring and summer of 2013, a moment where research specialists started warning about a significant increase in the departure of European volunteers, including French to Syria, which would later be confirmed throughout the year[7]. Not only the French volunteers, like the others, benefit from the fact that access to Syrian territory is much easier than for other lands of jihad in the past, but in addition, they can count, sometimes, on the remains of organized networks for previous jihads, as those who had operated to Iraq between 2004 and 2006[8]. From the spring of 2013 and the emergence of the first specific examples of French volunteers, the reasons for leaving are very different. Djamel Amer Al-Khedoud, 50, from Marseille and has since become a prisoner of the regime, went to defend the Sunnis of Syria, a motivation which derives from the notion of the “defensive jihad,” which is the reason for many foreign volunteers, especially in the period from 2011-2012. Instead, Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a Franco-Syrian 33 years-old, joined Suqur al -Sham (a member of the Islamic Front in November 2013), since expressly designed for the installation of an Islamic caliphate and the strict and rigorous application of Sharia. He was in charge of a group of 600 combatants[9]. Ayachi was killed in June 2013: he had benefited from military training in the Belgian reserve, he took advantage of it, probably, on the Syrian battlefield[10]. Raphael Gendron, a French 38 years-old, was also part of Suqur al -Sham and was killed April 14, 2013. Residing in Brussels, he was close to radical circles in France that provided a number of volunteers for the Syrian jihad.

Raphael Gendron was well known to the French services. Repeatedly condemned by the Belgian justice system, he was arrested by the Italian authorities in late 2009 with Bassam Ayachi, a Franco-Syrian imam living in Belgium and famous, too, for his radical opinions. They wanted to organize a chain of recruitment to al-Qaeda cells in southern Italy. After being released, they returned to Belgium where they continued to lead the Assabyle Islamic Center. Gendron engaged in active propaganda on its website. In a very different case, the young French jihadist that is 17 years-old, from Sartrouville, was arrested by Greek police on May 25, 2013, while trying to go into Syria[11]. He had told his parents of his departure on May 16, after buying his ticket to Athens and taking a passport. The family called the police, who managed to join the Greek authorities. The young man was arrested on a bus in the north, as he headed to Turkey.

In June 2013, a French diplomat noted the figure of 270 Frenchmen who left to fight in Syria[12]. A month later, a French jihadist  present in Syria released a video call to his countrymen and President F. Hollande, asking him to convert to Islam[13]. The man, who calls himself Abu Abdelrahman, announced his conversion in Islam three years before, and have French parents that are atheists. He asked the French to join the jihad. His half-brother Jean-Daniel Pons, 22 years-old, from Toulouse, was killed on August 11th 2013. He had been coached by his older brother, Nicolas, 30 years-old, who is speaking on the video. Nicolas, who has a BEP (a French degree), had fallen into petty crime before converting in 2009 and proselytizing. His brother Jean-Daniel had moved to Toulouse in 2011 to begin a BTS (an another French degree, in advanced studies), after living with their father in Guyana; he became a convert, too. They both went to Syria in March 2013[14]. They went to Syria via Spain and Turkey, telling their relatives they were going to Thailand, before revealing the truth in April[15]. The mother of the two young people, retired from the army, had reported the worrying trend of her sons to the authorities in the month of April. A few days later, a 47 year-old man, from Belfort, was arrested by the DCRI living in Toulouse, he came to visit his family, and had links with both youngsters of Toulouse in the famous video[16]. Jacques Abu Abdallah al- Faransi, a French from Marseille, is also seen in July 2013 on a video posted on Youtube[17].

Another well-documented case is of Abu Hajjar, a computer scientist from the Paris region, who left in April 2013 to do jihad in Syria. This man is fighting in the Jebel al-Zawiya, in Idlib province, among the group Suqur al-Sham. According to his testimony, collected by Le Figaro, it performs reconnaissance on the highway between Latakia and Aleppo, to report the movements of troops and convoys from the regime. He defines himself as an “Islamist activist” and not related to jihadists. His group includes, according to him,  Saudis and Jordanians. He expresses, in his statements, some « opening » in the treatment of Syrian minorities, and explains that his group seeks to convince by opening offices of preaching, for example, but not by force, as some jihadists do. He does not intend to return to France, where he has left his wife and his children[18].

Acceleration of the recruitment and tighter profiles (Fall 2013- February 2014)

On September 1st 2013, Manuel Valls announced that more than a hundred French are currently fighting in Syria, a dozen are dead and some have already returned[19]. Other reports say at the same time that 9 French have been killed in combat[20]. In September, four men were arrested after robing a Quick restaurant in Yvelines, and a fifth shortly after in Chateauroux, Indre. Aged 23-34 years, these five men were in fact monitored for a while by the DCRI (inland French intelligence services) and DRPP (Paris prefecture of police intelligence direction). They belong to a group, one of whose members, at least, from Trappes, is already in Syria. These are people « self-radicalized », with two brothers, and with sometimes recent converts to Islam. They were spotted in anti-American demonstrations in Paris in 2012 (gathering in the place de la Concorde, Sept. 16, against the film The Innocence of Muslims), then went on “collective training” in southern Paris[21]. The Hold-up of the Quick of Coignières was to be used to pay for their trip to Syria, with the possession of a toy gun, they took 2,500 euros in front of the DCRI , which arrested them the next day. They were unknown to the justice system, but one of them has been convicted in 2005 for aggravated theft[22]. The intention to finance their trip by a little hold-up confirms travel to Syria is relatively easy, as can be seen for other European volunteers, and does not necessarily imply the use of organized networks (the trip amounts to 300-500 euros through Turkey)[23]. That same September, a young man from Roubaix (north of France, near Lille) was killed in Syria. Sofiane D., 20 years-old , was killed on Sept. 20 in Aleppo. His worried parents had warned the authorities in July 2013. He was supposed to be in Algeria doing classic Islamic training. According to a magistrate, he had hardly ever left Roubaix before this. He apparently fought in the ranks of al-Nusra front[24]. Two other young men in the area would have also left for Syria[25]. Romain L., 26, of Calvados (in Normandy), is meanwhile arrested for advocating terrorism on Internet[26]. He was the administrator of the site Ansar al- Haqq, translator of the magazine Inspire, published by Al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He used the pseudonym of Abu Al-Siyad Normandy. In late September, the jihadists social networks highlight the figure of Abu Suhaib al- Faransi, a 63 years-old trader converted to Islam, and who is part of the French volunteers in the insurrection[27].

The French authorities have previously arrested Flavien Moreau, born in Ulsan, South Korea, before being adopted in France[28]. The young man from Nantes, 27 years-old, had imprudently given an interview, at Antioch in Turkey, to a Swiss journalist, in November 2012 and had been immediately spotted by the DCRI. He was arrested a few weeks later on his return to France in early 2013 and jailed. Moreau, who worked odd jobs and prison sentences, had converted five years ago, and had been looking for his last outing in 2012, to incorporate a fighter network. Having amassed a few thousand euros through various trades, he went to Zurich and Istanbul, then Antioch, with the intention to join the Ahrar al-Sham, today part of the Islamic Front, created November 22, 2013. With no combat experience, his commitment holds only a few weeks, after which he returned to France. Other commitments are just as ideological as the two disciples of Jeremiah Louis- Sydney, the leader of the “Torcy-Cannes cell”, on suspicion of the attempted attack against a kosher grocery in Sarcelles, in 2012 ; these two young French people of Tunisian origin are now in Syria.

In early October, there was a Frenchman would-be suicide bomber in the province of Aleppo[29]. Nicknamed Abu al-Qaaqaa, this Frenchman would have detonated on October 9 in the village of Al-Hamam, southeast of the city. This kamikaze attack paved the way for ISIS fighters (he is alleged part of it) and al-Nusra front. On 24 September, Abu Mohammad al- Fransi, a French convert to Islam, had been killed in the same area. In the same month, information is leaked on a network routing Chechen volunteers via the large Chechen diaspora in south-eastern France (over 10,000 people)[30]. Official estimates put the number of then French involved in the fighting in Syria at 400 at least[31]. On 14 October, three suspects of the famous terrorist cell Cannes-Torcy were arrested in the Alpes- Maritimes. Seizures include an UZI submachine gun and a semi-automatic pistol, and a large amount of money in cash. In November, four men aged 22 to 35 were arrested in the Val-de-Marne, they belonged to a network that would bring jihadist fighters to Syria. 2 or 3 of them would fight with the al-Nusra front. The overall figures then rise to more than 440 French who have left for Syria, half is still there, a dozen have died, one or two are prisoners of the regime, and 50 to 60 have returned to France. Of the twenty procedures triggered against volunteers who have returned, only three led to arrests[32]. On November 20th, 2013, Abu Malik al- Faransi, a French 17 years-old, was killed in Raqqa[33]. On 27 November, a man living near Lens is arrested, following the arrest on October 15, of two others in Tourcoing and Roubaix (north of France, near Lille). These two people have went to Syria and returned to France[34].

From the end of September 2013, recruitment in the south-east of France appears to have increased, particularly in Nice and its region. Ten departures at least are listed in Vallauris, Saint-Laurent, and Nice, as well as the side of the Ariane and the city of Moulins, mostly to join al-Nusra front. The majority of young people involved seem to have radicalized quickly, before leaving their families overnight. In 2011, a network already recruited, obviously, for the jihad in Afghanistan in the region. A network for the recruitment in Iraq had been dismantled, also, in 2005[35]. A mother in the Lyon’s region also reported in December 2013 that her ex-husband, whom she is separated since July 2012, apparently kidnapped his daughter to go to Syria via Turkey, to join al-Nosra front. He was radicalized after a trip to La Mecque[36]. He had also approached Forzane Alizza, a jihadist Salafist splinter group dissolved by the French authorities in February 2012.

On December 22nd, 2013, Jean-Daniel Pons brother, Nicolas, (both French from the Toulouse region), was killed in a suicide bomber attack near Homs[37]. The two half- brothers have joined, since leaving to Syria, the ranks of ISIS[38]. Their mother, Dominique Pons, has reported to the authorities about his son’s radicalization, and established in December 2013 with her ex-husband, the Syrian association Syrien ne bouge… Agissons ! According to her, Nicolas has also found in Syria an another man of Toulouse he knew[39]. In January 2014, French intelligence services estimated that 500 to 600 Frenchmen left for Syria, including 220 still on site, 70 who have returned and 18 killed, a number that has quadrupled compared to May 2013. Of this total, 20% were French converts, but most other young people are of North African origin, not necessarily practicing Muslims, but quickly radicalized. Besides the ease of access to Syrian territory, intelligence reports that a major factor in motivating volunteers is that they feel they are fighting for a just cause[40]. 10-14 young people from Strasbourg (east of France, near Germany) have also left their city to Germany, to reach Syria, at the end of the year 2013[41]. A young man from the neighborhood Elsau, in Strasbourg, would also died in a kamikaze attack in Syria in November 2013[42].

There was the announcement of departure, in January 2014, of two teenagers 15 years-old, from the Toulouse region, relayed in the media. Both enrolled in high school in the Arena, the two teenagers went on Jan. 6 to reach Turkey. One of two teenagers, Yasine, was deemed a brilliant student, one of the best in its class. The other, Ayoub, the eldest, however, was known to police, and belonged to a family that could have rigoristic religious beliefs. Yacine bought tickets for the sum of 417 euros and the two young men embarked on a flight of Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. Then they came to Antioch. But it is hard to say if they benefited from the assistance of an organized network[43]. They were caught though and brought back to France, the two teens are finally indicted[44]. The event confirms both the acceleration of recruitment in France, but also diversification. If the majority of recruits continues to come from major urban centers (Lille -Roubaix, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Paris, Nice and southeast), the profiles seem less to correspond to lost youth or social outcasts, but rather to youth that are integrated[45]. The father of one of the two teenagers was quick to warn the authorities and made a public appeal. According to him, his son was radicalized in particular through exchanges on the web, including Facebook[46]. In the southeast, Nice and its surroundings, there were about forty young people who wanted to leave for the Syrian jihad, with more and more young -16 or 15 years-old[47]. In the popular area of Saint Roch, east of Nice, there were have been 7-8 departures between September and December 2013[48]. At the rnd of December, a whole family of ten people left for Syria[49]. In early December, the DCRI had carried out the arrest of an alleged recruiter in the Nice area[50].

In February 2014, Salahudine, a jihadist French 27 year-old from the Paris region, went to fight in July 2013, delivers his ultimate testimony after being seriously wounded in Aleppo. He had brought his wife and children with him, and obviously has not been assisted by a network. He organized his trip through Turkey alone. After going to Aleppo, he joined with ISIS, was trained in a camp and shipped quickly to the front. In November 2013, apparently disgusted by ISIS, he defected to al-Nusra front. He fought in Aleppo, Damascus and Homs. He is paid $50 every month, but bought a $1,300 AK-47[51]. Another French volunteer belonging to ISIS, Abu Shaheed, based north of Aleppo, also delivered his testimony in February 2014. This is a resolute volunteer, who does not want to come back to France, but who is a partisan of transnational jihad[52]. However, according to French intelligence services , the profile of volunteers is now pretty easy to determine. It now comprise mostly men aged 20 to 35 years that are more determined. One third of the 250 French still present in Syria are Caucasians, Chechens who have passed through the region of Nice (which serves as a hub for Caucasians and especially Chechens, with Vienna, Austria). On the rest, we count a half converted and another half of young people of North African immigration, as well as some women. Notably, radicals in ISIS do not hesitate to use foreign volunteers, like the French, for kamikaze attacks. It also points out several cases where people move to the Turkish border and in northern Syria, but do not take part in fight, pending the establishment of an Islamic caliphate[53]. On February 20th, 2014, a young man from Nice, 18 years-old, who went to Syria in September 2013, was arrested on his return to France. Farid had fought in the Aleppo region. He was a young student and left with three other friends from Nice, radicalized after a few weeks. He was imprisoned after his arrest, pending its judgement[54].

The French jihadists on social networks

The French jihadists are very active on social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook[55]. They provide information on their journey, the struggle and the practical conditions of jihad. Most belong to ISIS. Foreign volunteers tend, in Syria, to regroup, for cultural and linguistic affinity, but it is not said that it is always the case for French, although some fight in the same formations. Some come together and know each other before the jihad. We also note the presence of wives of fighters. Social networks are used for recruitment, dissemination of propaganda, and to maintain contact with families. Propaganda plays on the analogy with video games, in the illustrations that can be disseminated. Obviously, internal conflicts among insurgents, as those of ISIS and al-Nusra since April 2013, are relatively missing. Abu Shaheed, arrived in Syria in May 2013, and is part of ISIS, often refers to the pursuit of jihad after the fall of the Assad regime. Another French jihadist, also a member of ISIS and arrived at the same date, which operates under the name If you want my opinion, gives many details about the fighting and claims to have participated in those of the base 80 in Aleppo. Mohammed Abu Muhajir, another French, is also a member of ISIS who arrived in the summer of 2013 and fought around Azaz. He is married to Umtawwab zawjetu ”abu mohammed, a woman from Lorient (Britanny, France), which raises funds for so-called humanitarian work via Facebook, and which claims to have made the trip in France between October-November 2013. Mourad Ibn Amar, also arrived in Syria in the summer, is also part of ISIS. He appears in many group photographs. Under the name Selim Det-R, a man from Roubaix (north of France) is also included in ISIS. Abdullah Wade, another Frenchman, raises funds to renovate homes in Syria in favor of French jihadists. Abu Tasnim is probably a French native of Haiti. He went to Syria on October 17, 2013 and fights in al-Nusra front. Injured in training, he says a lot in social media about practical issues for the journey to Syria, and delivers his experience of war.


It is difficult to make assumptions about the future of the French recruitment for the Syrian jihad, especially because the numbers are uncertain, perhaps even more than for other quotas, particularly in Europe. The difficult situation of the uprising against the regime, since the agreement on chemical weapons in September 2013, and fighting between rebels, including against the ISIS, does not seem to have dried up recruitment. The French, like others, are directed mainly to jihadi groups like al-Nusra front and especially ISIS. Although marginalized in the al-Qaeda system by the recent clashes, ISIS is nonetheless an important player on the field. It can therefore be concerned with both the difficulty following departures, often spontaneous, difficult to anticipate, and the return of seasoned people on battlefield, who wish to extend their action in France. Nevertheless, it should also be noted that part of the volunteers, as in other countries, was involved for many years in jihadist networks, and was previously monitored, which, moreover, leads to some arrests. For this category, it is clear that the intelligence services could make, if necessary, raids on a larger scale. Going to Syria is not a crime, and evidence must be gathered to make the arrests. What is worrying is the high proportion of people who are self-radicalized by various means, including the web, and go unpredictably to Syria, a trip which, as mentioned, by its easy nature, particularly via Turkey, is a boon for the jihadi movement. The major challenge is that with the evolution in the nature of Islamist terrorism, the return of only a dozen fanatical fighters could have a disproportionate impact, in networking, or even in solitary action, such as Mohamed Merah. This is the challenge for intelligence services to achieve a greater defeat of this phenomenon, a task that is become even more difficult. The phenomenon of French volunteers is more complex than it seems, and it will of course continue to be trend in the future.

Summary table of the official estimates provided by the French Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, about French who left in Syria (May 2013-January 2014).

  Total since 2011 Still in Syria Returned in France Killed In Transit Those who want to leave France to Syria
May 2013 120 50 30   40  
September 2013   130 50 10 40 100
October 2013   184 80 14    
December 2013 +400 184 80 14   100
January 2014 700 250 76 26   150


[1]   Thomas Hegghammer, « Number of foreign fighters from Europe in Syria is historically unprecedented. Who should be worried? », The Monkey Cage, 27th November 2013.

[2]   Aaron Y. Zelin, « Up to 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria; steep rise among Western Europeans », The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, 17th December 2013.

[3]   Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

[4]   See my article about foreign fighters in Syria here : http://historicoblog3.blogspot.com/2014/01/and-fight-them-until-there-is-no-more.html

[7]   See my article about foreign fighters in Syria here : http://historicoblog3.blogspot.com/2014/01/and-fight-them-until-there-is-no-more.html

[9]   See my article about foreign fighters in Syria here : http://historicoblog3.blogspot.com/2014/01/and-fight-them-until-there-is-no-more.html

[17] Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

[24] Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

[27] Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

[33] Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

GUEST POST: Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (Carlos Bledsoe): A Case Study in Lone Wolf Terrorism

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.

Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (Carlos Bledsoe): A Case Study in Lone Wolf Terrorism

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

June 1, 2009 was a Monday. Shortly after 10:00 a.m., Private William Long, 24, and Private Quinton Ezeagwula, 18, stood outside the joint Army-Navy recruiting center in northwestern Little Rock, Arkansas, taking a smoke break. The two young men, who were working at their hometown recruiting center before moving on to their first duty station, spoke of where that first assignment would take them. Long said that he would be leaving for Korea the following Monday; Ezeagwula was bound for Hawaii a day earlier, on Sunday.


Figure 1: Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad at the time of his arrest.

As they made conversation, a black Ford Sport Trac sport utility vehicle pulled around from the commercial parking lot adjacent to the recruiting station, and the SUV’s window rolled down. Ezeagwula thought he heard the driver say something, so he turned and looked toward the driver, a black male in his mid-twenties.

Almost immediately, the driver—Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, formerly  known as Carlos Bledsoe—began firing at the soldiers with a SKS semi-automatic rifle. Long collapsed, and would be declared dead upon arrival at the hospital. Ezeagwula was hit in the back and torso, and dropped to his knees. He crawled back toward the recruiting station, seeking shelter from the gunfire. Muhammad continued shooting through the recruiting station’s window, hoping to hit the fifteen Army and civilian personnel inside. His SUV then drove off.

Though this initially appeared to be a routine drive-by shooting, Muhammad made his motivations clear after Little Rock police apprehended him. He said that he was a practicing Muslim, and was motivated to carry out the shooting by the injustices of U.S. foreign policy. It soon became obvious that the shooting had been an act of lone wolf jihadist terrorism.

This article examines the Muhammad case in detail. I conducted field research in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the summer of 2012. Before traveling there, I read all available court documents and media reporting related to Muhammad’s attack, making note of figures who seemingly had special insight into him and the attack, and interviewed Muhammad’s father (Melvin Bledsoe) by telephone. In Little Rock, I interviewed prosecutor Larry Jegley; Lt. Carl Minden of the Pulaski County detention facility; guards who worked at the facility during Muhammad’s incarceration; and Jim Hensley, an attorney who was part of the defense team. I also visited the detention facility, where I was given access to the administrative segregation wing where Muhammad had been held, and I was able to gain access to the files that the prosecution used in this case.

The article thus documents a great deal of information that has not been made public previously, including Muhammad’s violent tendencies prior to his conversion to Islam, the extent to which the FBI was aware of Muhammad before his attack, the manner in which he continued his jihad even while incarcerated (assaulting inmates and guards), and the fact that he was able to convert another inmate. The article also provides rich detail on the evolution of Muhammad’s religious ideology during his radicalization.

Muhammad’s Early Life and Conversion

Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad was born as Carlos Bledsoe on July 9, 1985, and grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. His family operated a tour company, Twin City Tours, and Muhammad began to assist the family business when he was eight years old. He would interact enthusiastically with customers. ‘‘He grew up in the business,’’ Muhammad’s father, Melvin Bledsoe, told me. ‘‘He came to work in the summers, after school was out.’’

There are two different accounts of Muhammad’s upbringing. One is the family’s view that he was a typical American boy. Describing his son as a ‘‘fun kid,’’ Bledsoe explained: ‘‘He loved to have fun, he was a practical joker, he loved high fashion clothes, rap music, girls. Typical young boy.’’ The family had a couple of dogs during Muhammad’s youth: it had an American Eskimo until he was twelve, but after it was killed by a neighbor’s dog, the family bought a golden retriever. The American Eskimo was one of the memories that neighbor Curnelia Crutchfield emphasized after news of Muhammad’s shooting became public, telling the media that he ‘‘seemed like he was a good kid. He was a happy-go-lucky kid. I remember he had a white dog and they were the best of friends.’’

Muhammad graduated from high school in 2003, and went to college at Tennessee State University in Nashville. He wanted to get a degree in business administration, and eventually run the family business. Melvin Bledsoe and his wife hoped their son could give them an early retirement.

The other account of Muhammad’s upbringing, told by Muhammad himself, is significantly darker. Speaking to a psychologist with the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Muhammad recalled that he was suspended from school several times for fighting, and characterized himself as ‘‘a gang member.’’ Several people I interviewed were dismissive of the claim that he had been in a gang. However, records from the Shelby County, Tennessee Sheriff’s Office suggest that there may be merit to Muhammad’s claim. A police report from February 2002 describes an incident in which Muhammad was punched in the face by a man named Derrick Moore, who claimed Muhammad had threatened him. The report notes that Muhammad and Moore had in the past been ‘‘affiliated’’ with a gang called the Vice Lords.

Muhammad was involved in a couple of other violent incidents before leaving for college. In August 2002, he entered a barbershop and told a man named Derrick Cathey to step outside to fight. Cathey refused, and barbershop employees told Muhammad to leave. He later returned with two other men, and a knife was pulled during the course of the ensuing altercation. And in May 2003, another driver struck Muhammad’s car. Muhammad jumped out of his vehicle and started hitting the other driver’s rear passenger window with chrome-plated brass knuckles. Muhammad yelled, ‘‘Bitch I’m gonna kill you, get out, I’m going to kill you when I get your address.’’ Officers who arrived on the scene found the brass knuckles in Muhammad’s left rear pocket during a pat-down.

Of course, this involvement with violence as a teenager doesn’t mean Muhammad would inevitably have committed murder absent his encounters with Islamic extremism. His defense lawyer, Jim Hensley, told me that if Muhammad hadn’t been captured by this fringe ideology, ‘‘I don’t think he ever would have murdered anybody.’’ (Muhammad fired Hensley before trial, but Hensley continued to serve as an informal consultant to Muhammad’s father.) On the other hand, prosecutor Larry Jegley thought that Muhammad might have ended up a killer even without drifting into Islamic radicalism. ‘‘It’s possible,’’ Jegley said, that he might not have killed absent becoming radicalized. But on the other hand, ‘‘he also could have hooked up with the Crips or the Bloods.’’ Jegley noted, however, that Muhammad had every opportunity to not go down the wrong path, in that he was blessed with a father who had ‘‘pulled himself up by his bootstraps, worked hard, took chances, and was part of the American dream. His family members all wanted desperately for him to share in that.’’ Thus, Jegley said, ‘‘I’m not going to argue with anybody who says the radical Muslim stuff he was exposed to could have been an influence.’’

Though Muhammad had early brushes with the law, one particular 2004 incident, occurring in Knoxville, Tennessee, would indelibly change his life.

Around 9:00 p.m. on the evening of February 21, Knoxville police officer Michael Harper pulled over a blue Mazda. A man who had been in the car’s front seat fled, and the officer found Muhammad in the back. There were weapons in the car, including a SKS assault rifle and a single-shot shotgun, which Muhammad told the officer he had been trying to sell. A search accompanying the arrest turned up a bag of marijuana in Muhammad’s front left pants pocket, and he was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and drug possession.

Muhammad could have faced up to fourteen years of imprisonment, which he said ‘‘spooked’’ him. The family hired a lawyer, who argued he was just a college student who was experimenting. The prosecutors gave Muhammad a plea deal that included a year’s probation, but one condition was that if he got into further criminal trouble, he would have to serve the full fourteen-year sentence.

The experience seemingly instilled in Muhammad the idea that he had to show he could do better. He became interested in religion, and would later provide an account of this exploration to journalist Kristina Goetz of Memphis’s largest daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, to whom he wrote from jail.

Muhammad told her that he first looked into Christianity, the faith in which he had been raised, but no longer believed in it. He found the doctrine of the Trinity ‘‘not comprehensible,’’ telling Goetz: ‘‘1 + 1 + 1 = 3. That’s wasn’t clicking to me.’’ (This article retains Muhammad’s original spelling and grammar, which is idiosyncratic, when quoting from his writings.)

Thereafter, Muhammad decided to study Judaism, saying that he ‘‘was attracted to the belief of monotheism.’’ However, he claimed that he was turned away from a couple of orthodox synagogues because he was black. Muhammad wrote of Judaism: ‘‘That religion seem to me like too much of racial pride and not for other people. It seem to be all about ‘the Jews’ or ‘Children of Israel.’’’

Then Muhammad began to explore Islam. He visited a mosque in Nashville, and reported being ‘‘drawn and amazed’’ by salah, the congregational prayer. He attempted to join in the prayer, but it was obvious to the others that Muhammad was unfamiliar with the sequence of standing, bowing, and prostration. After salah was done, one of the congregants asked Muhammad how long he had been Muslim, and he said that he wasn’t—that he was just interested in the faith. Muhammad reported that the congregation responded enthusiastically, with shouts of Allahu Akbar! permeating the room. The congregants, he wrote, ‘‘embraced me like I was a long loss brother.’’ The congregant who had spoken to Muhammad explained the fundamentals of the faith, and Muhammad felt attracted to its ‘‘pure monotheism, no 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.’’ Muhammad was given a translation of the Qur’an, and other books. ‘‘I believed in it wholeheartedly,’’ Muhammad wrote, ‘‘and decided to become a Muslim.’’

Muhammad took his shahadah, or declaration of faith, at a mosque in Memphis in 2004, at the age of nineteen.

Muhammad’s Religious Evolution

By his own explanation, Muhammad ascribed to an interpretation of Islam at the time of the shooting that is best labeled salafi jihadist. Salafi refers to an austere religious methodology that seeks to re-create Islam as it was supposedly practiced by the Prophet Muhammad and the first three generations of Muslims. The term jihadist refers to the belief that violence should be undertaken in the effort to purify Islam in this manner.

Soon after Muhammad’s conversion, he began to embrace a highly legalistic practice of the faith consistent with salafism. Muhammad’s family glimpsed his transformation during his trips back home to Memphis. As Melvin Bledsoe explained, they actually learned that he had become Muslim after Muhammad ‘‘took down all the pictures from the walls in the bedroom where he slept,’’ including a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. that held particular emotional resonance for the family. When the family asked why he had done this, Muhammad explained that it was because he had converted to Islam. Muhammad’s decision to take down the pictures in his room is consonant with Islamic rulings holding that pictures depicting anything with a soul are religiously impermissible.

Another aspect of Muhammad’s legalism can be glimpsed in what he did with a dog that he had bought while in college. Since Muhammad had grown up with a couple of dogs, it was natural that he bought a puppy—a Rottweiler—while in college. But a popular interpretation of Islam holds that dogs are religiously impermissible pets. In one hadith, for example, Prophet Muhammad states that ‘‘Angels (of Mercy) do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture of a living creature.’’ So Muhammad took his Rottweiler into the woods, and let it go. It was only a year and a half old when he did so.

Muhammad adopted a number of other legalistic practices and trappings consistent with a salafi practice. His father told me that Muhammad tried to grow out a beard, but ‘‘it wouldn’t grow right. It would always be thin and ragged, and we would make fun of him about it. He’d be an old man before he would grow a beard, but he kept trying, because he was told that’s what he should do.’’ Muhammad rolled his pants legs up above the ankles, another behavioral change often associated with salafism. He began chewing a miswak, a stick used for cleaning one’s teeth that Prophet Muhammad had reportedly used.

Muhammad legally changed his name from Carlos Bledsoe to Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad on March 29, 2006. His father told me, ‘‘Carlos and Abdulhakim Muhammad are two different people.’’ Indeed, Muhammad began to distance himself from his own family due to their refusal to become Muslim when he tried to push his new faith on them. As Melvin Bledsoe said in congressional testimony, ‘‘It had gotten to the point where he had no interest in coming home, even for the holidays.’’

Muhammad’s writings from jail provide further evidence supporting Bledsoe’s interpretation of his son’s transformation—both the notion that Carlos Bledsoe and Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad were ‘‘different people,’’ and also the way he distanced himself from his family. In one letter to Kristina Goetz, Muhammad flatly stated, ‘‘I’m not Carlos. I’m Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad—a new man, changed man.’’ Continuing, he substantiated his post-conversion distance from his family, analogizing his situation to that of the prophet Abraham. Muhammad wrote: ‘‘Abraham was a friend of Allah but his relatives and people especially his father were enemies of Allah and that’s the situation with me and them [his family]. I love Allah, and His Messenger, they hate them. So we are on different sides.’’

In September 2007, Muhammad left for Yemen. At the time, the imam of Masjid Furooq in Nashville wrote a letter to the Yemen Al Khair Institute on Muhammad’s behalf. The letter explains that Muhammad wanted to go to Yemen because he ‘‘seeks knowledge’’ of Islam. It goes on to describe Muhammad’s religious practice as salafi: ‘‘He follows the Quran and Sunnah according to the understanding of the Salafis Salih. He is Salafi and seeks to increase his knowledge of Quran and Sunnah, and the Arabic Language.’’

Muhammad’s Time in Yemen

Muhammad arrived in Yemen on September 11, 2007. One unfortunate aspect of his time there is that we only have his own account for much of what occurred.

It’s clear that by the time he left the U.S., Muhammad self-identified as salafi, and had adopted the mores, customs, and rules of that practice of the faith. Seemingly, though, it wasn’t until his time in Yemen that he embraced the need for religiously-inspired violence. He told Kristina Goetz, ‘‘I’ve loved Jihad ever since I became Muslim. But here in America you have hypocrites and hypocritical sects preaching against Jihad and the Mujahideen so I fell victim to their false knowledge and cowardly ways.’’

While in Yemen, Muhammad taught English at two different schools, but that was by no means his primary interest. In fact, he felt guilty and uncomfortable teaching English because, as he wrote, ‘‘it’s the English and others that are the enemies to the Muslims.’’ Thus, Muhammad ‘‘felt uncomfortable teaching the Language of the Enemy to my brothers and sisters.’’

Muhammad later expressed the new worldview that he adopted while in Yemen, and explained how it led him to embrace the need for violence. As has been the case for many homegrown jihadist terrorists, Muhammad put political rage at the center of his explanation, but fused that rage with a sense of religious obligation:

What lead to the attack on the Recruiting Center was this. America and it’s allies are waging an all out war on Islam and Muslims. Even before 9-11 it was involved in a war against Islam. The US Foreign Policy regarding occupied Palestine was the sole purpose of 9-11. In Islam there’s a call to duty—Jihad—and it’s of different types but the one I’m mentioning is a defensive struggle or fight with weapons against those who attack, kill, maim the Muslims. And this is apart of Islam….

‘‘Like I said’’ there’s an all out war against Islam and Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Waziristan, Chechnya, Somalia, Palestine, Phillipines, Yemen etc. And Muslims have to fight back. Like I said before in a past interview we believe in an eye for eye not turn the other cheek. Now it’s a all out war on America and I’m on the other side. The side of the Muslims Yes! The side of Al-Qāeda Yes! Taliban Yes! Al-Shabaab Yes! We are all brothers under the same banner. Fighting for the same cause which is to rid the Islamic world of Infidel and Apostate Hypocritic regimes and Crusader Invaders and re-establish the Caliphate, the Islamic Empire and Islamic Law as was ended officially in 1924 by the fall of the Ottomans.

Muhammad told Little Rock police that he got married while in Yemen, to a Yemeni woman who was a student at one of the schools where he taught. He said, though, that they divorced before he returned to the U.S. A marriage document issued by Yemen in September 2008 provides verification for his claim of marriage.

It’s unclear at what point during his time in Yemen Muhammad came to accept the need to undertake violence, but his writings reveal that he did not receive military training. He noted that he had wanted to travel to Somalia for training, and had even obtained a fraudulent Somali passport, but he was unable to do go. Muhammad boasted that if he had received this training, his attack would have been even deadlier: ‘‘My drive-by would have been a drive-in, with noone [sic] escaping the aftermath!!’’

But before Muhammad could go to Somalia, Yemeni authorities arrested him in October 2008. There is some dispute in open source reporting over why he was arrested (some sources claim he overstayed his visa), but the likeliest explanation is that Yemeni officials suspected Muhammad of being a militant, especially because of his fraudulent Somali passport.

Muhammad was clearly on the FBI’s radar at this time. As a senior counterterrorism official in the U.S. government told me, ‘‘Carlos Bledsoe was interviewed by an FBI agent from Nashville in Yemen. What was the agent doing in Yemen? He wasn’t there on a TDY [temporary duty assignment]. The embassy didn’t even know he was there.’’ Muhammad corroborated this account, describing his interview with an FBI agent in his public correspondence.

After carrying out his attack in Little Rock, Muhammad would claim that he was associated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the jihadist organization’s Yemeni affiliate. Muhammad’s claim that he was a part of AQAP is rather vague. He told Kristina Goetz that he would not say much about AQAP, but ‘‘yes, I’m affiliated with them.’’ He wrote, ‘‘Our goal is to rid the Islamic world of Idols and Idolators, Paganism and Pagans, Infidelity and Infidels, hypocrisy and hypocrites, apostasy and apostates, democracy and democrats and relaunch the Islamic caliphate, the Islamic Khalifah and to establish the Islamic Law (Shari’ah)—Allah’s Law on Earth and anyone who strives for this is affiliated with the movement. So yes I’m Al Qāeda and proud to be.’’ Muhammad did not expand on this alleged affiliation, and open-source information provides no corroboration.

The Little Rock Attack

Muhammad was deported back to the United States in January 2009. He lived with his family for about three months in Memphis before moving to Little Rock. Muhammad’s family wanted to straighten him out, so gave him a job with Twin City Tours in Little Rock as the company expanded to that location.

Muhammad said that he had formulated the intention to carry out an attack during his incarceration in Yemen. Upon his move to Little Rock, he began developing a specific plan of action, targeting recruiting centers and Jewish organizations. He looked at possible targets in places that included ‘‘Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Florence, Kentucky, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C.’’

In preparation for an attack, Muhammad bought guns and a stockpile of ammunition. He refused to use credit cards to buy these supplies because, as he later told a court-appointed psychologist, ‘‘Muslims don’t believe in interest.’’ At one point, he purchased a .22 rifle at a Walmart to see if the FBI would put a hold on the purchase, or if he would be questioned. No such actions came. Muhammad recalled walking out of the store with his new gun, thinking, ‘‘It’s on.’’

But Muhammad’s initial journey to carry out an attack resembled a farce more than anything else. He first threw a Molotov cocktail at the house of a rabbi in Nashville, but it bounced off a window. Muhammad fled the scene, driving toward his next target, an army recruiting center in Florence, Kentucky, that he had found on the Internet. But the recruiting office was closed when he arrived.

Muhammad felt dejected. Gas cost around $4 a gallon, and he felt he had spent a lot of money on an unsuccessful expedition. But when Muhammad returned to Little Rock, driving down Rodney Parham Road on June 1, 2009, he saw two soldiers standing in front of the joint Army-Navy recruiting center smoking, and he recognized an opportunity. Muhammad drove through a parking lot adjacent to the center, approaching from around a corner so the two soldiers would be less aware of him.


Figure 2: Photograph of the Army-Navy recruiting center taken in August 2012.

Muhammad’s black Ford Sport Trac SUV pulled up next to William Long and Quinton Ezeagwula shortly after 10:00 a.m., and he shot at them with a SKS semi-automatic rifle. Long collapsed and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital less than an hour later, at 10:56 a.m. Tragically, his mother, Janet Long, was sitting nearby, in her car, when Muhammad shot her son. She saw his sudden execution first-hand. As Ezeagwula, who was injured in the shooting, crawled back into the recruiting station, Muhammad continued firing through the window until his ten-round clip was empty. He then drove away.

Another driver, Woody Mulkey, heard the shooting from his truck, which was at  the nearby stoplight at the corner of Reservoir and Rodney Parham. He saw Muhammad’s truck, with a gun sticking out the window, and briefly pursued it. However, Mulkey incorrectly anticipated the direction that Muhammad would take in his retreat, and lost sight of him.

But Muhammad’s shooting was sloppily executed if he had any intention of escape: he had left his truck’s tailgate down, thus making the vehicle easier to spot as he fled. Police logs show that officers pursuing Muhammad were told about the tailgate.

An officer caught up with Muhammad as he drove east on I-630. The arrest was uneventful. The officer activated his blue lights and Muhammad pulled toward the right shoulder but didn’t stop, then pulled across I-630 to the left lane, and continued onto the I-30 East on-ramp. Muhammad then stopped about halfway up the ramp. The arresting officer drew his service weapon, and made Muhammad keep his hands outside the window of his car. When two other officers arrived, Muhammad was instructed to turn his car off and throw the keys out the window, after which he was arrested.

Muhammad waived his Miranda rights at the beginning of the interrogation. He told Detectives Matt Nelson and Tommy Hudson that he was a practicing Muslim, and shot the two soldiers because he was angry at the U.S. military. Muhammad said that ‘‘if there would have been more out there I probably would have shot them too.’’

Muhammad’s Detention and Trial

While awaiting trial, Muhammad was detained at the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility in Little Rock. It is the largest county jail in Arkansas, holding 1,130 inmates (with construction underway to add another 240 cells). As Muhammad told Kristina Goetz, he realized that he could continue ‘‘waging jihad’’ even while incarcerated, and he remains notorious among the facility’s guards and administrators.


Figure 3: Duty belt worn at Little Rock’s Pulaski County regional detention facility. Deputy Grunerwald claims that Muhammad stabbed his belt, while Muhammad insists he actually stabbed Deputy Grunerwald’s stomach.

Muhammad was involved in several violent incidents. The first occurred on October 24, 2009. Another inmate, George McFee, had been pouring juice into Muhammad’s cup when Muhammad cut his left hand and wrist with a makeshift knife that he had fashioned from his glasses. Muhammad explained in a letter from jail that he did this because McFee was ‘‘a blasphemer who got mad because I told him to calm down so I could hear the news on TV and he responded by cursing me, my mother, and the almighty allah.’’ He said that because McFee had ‘‘blasphemed the Creator,’’ stabbing him was ‘‘a just reward.’’

Muhammad also stabbed a guard, Deputy Grunerwald, whom he said was an Iraq  war veteran. Again he made the shank from his glasses. Guards at the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility have rather large duty belts (see Figure 3), and Grunerwald reported that he was stabbed in the belt. Muhammad didn’t believe this, saying in a clinical evaluation, ‘‘He lied and said I stabbed his belt. I stabbed his stomach, that bastard.’’ In explaining why he had stabbed Grunerwald, Muhammad claimed that he was ‘‘a Crusader in the Crusader Army and was combat medic just back from Iraq. He bragged and boasted of having killed ‘sand niggers’ and Muslims in front of me so I shanked him as a reward.’’

Jim Hensley, Muhammad’s attorney, didn’t believe this account of the altercation when I told him of it. ‘‘I don’t think that happened,’’ Hensley said. ‘‘Soldiers don’t talk about things like that. I was in the Marine Corps and I was a cop, and I don’t talk about either. The one thing a true warrior who loves his country doesn’t want to do is go to war. Shame on Carlos for saying that.’’

In April 2010, Muhammad threatened another of the prison personnel, Deputy Huff, saying, ‘‘You’re done, you redneck ass motherfucker. I’m gonna kill your bitch ass, I’m gonna find something better than a piece of motherfucking glasses, you punk ass white boy. I’m gonna stab you in the motherfucking heart. You bitch, I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna get you better than I got Grunerwald. I’m gonna stab you in the motherfucking heart.’’ And Muhammad assaulted another guard, Lieutenant Martin, in October 2010. In that incident, Muhammad was being moved from his cell to the shower when he charged Martin, hitting him in the back of the head.

Even though he was placed in administrative segregation, Muhammad persuaded another inmate to splash urine on a guard whom he considered his enemy. Muhammad was also able to convert an inmate, as shown by a letter that Mu’min Abdulaziz (formerly known as Frank Askew, Jr.) wrote to the judge in Muhammad’s case. In it, Abdulaziz described Muhammad as ‘‘my brother in Islam and the individual who has awakened me.’’

Lieutenant Carl Minden, who handles media relations and training for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, told me that Muhammad ‘‘was renowned for making all sorts of problems for the staff.’’ This included not only assaults and threats, but also vandalizing his cells. For that reason, Muhammad would only be kept in a cell for a few days before authorities had to move him. Both Minden and also several guards and officials at the jail whom I was able to interview said that Muhammad was easily in the top percentile of offenders that the jail had seen, in terms of one inmate doing so much damage. The reason for this was not just Muhammad’s resolution to wage jihad, but also the sheer length of time he was held, 784 days in total. (The jail is a pre-trial facility, but given the nature of Muhammad’s case, there were multiple delays.)

Ultimately, Muhammad was tried by local rather than federal prosecutors. There are various theories about why federal prosecutors didn’t take the case away from the local Office of the Prosecuting Attorney. Muhammad’s explanation was egocentric: ‘‘I outsmarted them and they know it that’s why they don’t want to pick these charges up and are leaving me in State Court to be hung. But it’s OK people still see pass the smoke and mirrors.’’ And a senior counterterrorism official in the U.S. government suggested to me that federal prosecutors may not have taken the case because of hesitation to describe it as terrorism.

On the other hand, prosecutor Larry Jegley thinks the explanation may be easier: his office, sadly, has a lot of experience prosecuting murders, as there are anywhere from forty to 100 a year in his jurisdiction. Federal authorities may have decided it was best for experienced local prosecutors to handle the case.

When the Muhammad case went to trial, the specifics of his worldview, motivations, and process of radicalization weren’t presented to the jury. ‘‘We looked at it, but only to see if anything jumped out as an aggravating factor if we got to the sentencing phase,’’ Jegley told me. ‘‘But it wasn’t part of our case in chief, because motive isn’t something we had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.’’ The case was treated like so many other murders that Little Rock experiences in any given year: terrorism and Islamic extremism played no role in the prosecution’s case.

However, Muhammad’s beliefs did figure in the defense’s case. Though the state psychologist found Muhammad fit to proceed with trial, the defense argued that he was not guilty by reason of mental defect. Psychiatrist Bhushan Agharkar testified that Muhammad had a delusional disorder by virtue of his ‘‘fixed, false beliefs.’’ Though brainwashing is not a recognized defense in Arkansas, this was a brainwashing defense by another name.

But we never learned whether this defense would have succeeded. Muhammad unexpectedly took a plea bargain more than a week into the trial, before the case went to the jury. Muhammad’s lawyers explained to the local press that they had offered a plea because they believed the prosecution was willing to accept one in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table. Muhammad was sentenced on July 25, 2011, to ‘‘life without parole, 11 additional life sentences plus 180 years.’’ Immediately after the plea bargain, Muhammad was moved from the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility to a larger state prison, but he left an impression that officials at the regional facility won’t soon forget.


This case illustrates the overarching difficulty of protecting against lone wolf terrorist attacks in a free and open society. While Muhammad swore that he ‘‘outsmarted’’ federal authorities, in reality his attack illustrates the advantages enjoyed by lone wolf actors. It’s difficult to take preventive action against a potential attacker like Muhammad even if authorities have strong information that he has been radicalized and poses a danger. Here, Muhammad had already come across the FBI’s radar, yet if they had moved to arrest him prior to the attack, federal authorities most likely would have lacked a compelling criminal case.

But the shooting also demonstrates the limits of what a lone wolf terrorist might accomplish. At the end of the day Muhammad, not the most gifted operative, shot two people, killing one. The shooting was tragic, but so too are all the murders that regularly occur in Little Rock and other cities. When I asked Jegley, he said he thought the incident’s effect on the community was ‘‘about the same’’ as many other murders. ‘‘I think that there was more of an outrage factor than there would be for a street killing down at 15th and Oak between a couple of drug dealers because here it was a man in uniform,’’ he told me. ‘‘But no, I don’t think anybody here was terrorized. You want to see a terrorized community, let’s go back to 1993–1994, when the gangs were tearing this place up. That really terrorized the community.’’

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an adjunct assistant professor in Georgetown University’s security studies program. He is the author or volume editor of twelve books and monographs, including Bin Laden’s Legacy (Wiley, 2011). This post is adapted, with permission, from an academic article that he recently published with Terrorism & Political Violence.

GUEST POST: Dutch Foreign Fighters – Some Testimonials from the Syrian Front (Part III)

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.

Dutch Foreign Fighters – Some Testimonials from the Syrian Front (Part III)

By Pieter Van Ostaeyen


As in two former posts (part 1 and part 2) on Dutch foreign fighters this story is about another Dutch fighter who got killed in Syria. There are a lot of other stories on this group of foreign Mujāhidīn in Syria; yet this one might be considered as breaking.

The man who’s death was announced; was the spokesman of the group. He gave an extensive and exclusive interview to a Dutch newspaper a few months ago. All former communications by the Dutch Mujāhidīn in Syria via Facebook and a few WordPress blogs were authored by him. Most importantly he was co-author of the Dutch Islamist 150 page pamphlet ‘De Banier’ (The Banner), a highly interesting piece on several aspects of Islam and Jihād.

This is the communication by De Ware Religie on the martyrdom of Abū Jandal:

Zevende Nederlandse mujahied in Syrië verkrijgt martelaarschap

De zevende Nederlandse mujahied heeft het martelaarschap in Syrië verkregen. Dat vertellen bronnen rondom de familie aan DeWareReligie.nl. Het gaat om de 26-jarige Abu Jandal uit Delft. Abu Jandal, ook bekend onder de naam Abu Fidaa, was een van de broeders die nauw betrokken was met het interview in de Volkskrant. Hij is ook de (mede-) auteur van het boek De Banier. Twee weken geleden raakte Abu Jandal zwaargewond, daarna is hij aan zijn verwondingen overleden. 

Abu Jandal woonde in Delft en was een succesvolle zakenman, maar besloot ongeveer een jaar  terug de oproep van de islamitische gemeenschap in Syrië niet langer te negeren. Hij vertrok samen met Abu Walae, die eerder ook het martelaarschap verkreeg. Abu Jandal had nooit het plan om terug te keren naar Nederland. Hij wilde ofwel helpen met de implementatie van de sharia in Syrië, dan wel op het pad van Allah sterven.

“Je gaat toch een keer dood, dus dan zou het geweldig zijn als je voor een nobel doel sterft,” aldus Abu Jandal in het interview. “Wij weten ook uit de overleveringen dat alle zonden worden gewist bij de eerste druppel bloed die je laat vallen op het slagveld als Martelaar, dus je kijkt zelfs uit naar deze druppel.” Deze woorden bracht hij in praktijk toen hij zwaargewond raakte bij een slag. Ondanks de pijn die hij had, was hij tevreden met de wil van Allah. Deze tevredenheid steeg toen hij in zijn dromen de blijde tijdingen kreeg.

Abu Jandal is de zevende Nederlandse martelaar. Mourad Abu Baseer, Yasine Abu Lien, Chukrie Abu Walaae, Saddik Abu Adam, Ibrahiem Abu Khaalid en Soufian Abu Abderrahmaan gingen hem voor.


Seventh Dutch Mujāhid martyred in Syria

The seventh Dutch Mujāhid was martyred in Syria. Sources close to the family told DeWareReligie.nl. [The martyr] is 26 year old Abū Jandal from Delft. Abū Jandal, also known as Abū Fidā, was one of the brothers interviewed by De Volkskrant. He also co-authored the book The Banner. Two weeks ago, Abū Jandal was heavily wounded in battle, he succumbed to his wounds shortly after.

Abū Jandal lived in Delft and was a successful businessman, about a year ago he decided to follow the call of the Islamic community in Syria. He left together with Abū Walae, martyred earlier [this year]. Abū Jandal never planned on coming back to Holland. His aim was helping to implement Sharī’a in Syria or to die fī sabīl Allah. 

“You will die one day,” he said in the interview, “so it would be wonderful dying for a noble cause.”  “We know from Qur’ān and Hadīth that all sins will be erased, with the first drop of blood spilled on the field of battle, and so, you look forward to this moment.” And these words became true when he was heavily wounded in battle. Although he suffered heavily, he was pleased with the will of Allah. (…)

Abū Jandal is the seventh Dutch Martyr. These guys predecessed:  Mourad Abu Baseer, Yasine Abu Lien, Chukrie Abu Walaae, Saddiq Abu Adam, Ibrahim Abu Khalid and Soufyan Abu Abderrahmaan


The announcement of Abū Jandal’s death is a major strike for this small, cohesive group of Dutch fighters in Syria. He will be replaced however, the force base in Northern Europe is still growing … His death will inspire.

GUEST POST: The History of Jihadism in Finland and An Early Assessment of Finnish Foreign Fighters in Syria

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.

By Juha Saarinen

Radical Islam in Finland 

In August 2012, the first rumors of Finnish fighters in Syria appeared in Finnish media. Allegedly, young Finnish converts to Islam had traveled to northern Syria to support opposition forces. A year later, an Interior Ministry report stated that more than 20 foreign fighters from Finland had travelled to Syria, a majority with the intent to join radical Islamist groups.

With very little information publicly available about the Finnish foreign fighter contingent in Syria, it is difficult to examine what domestic factors that have contributed to this unprecedented development; prior to Syria there was very little evidence of Finnish foreign fighters, although few had been rumored to fight in and near Somalia. However, it cannot be separated from the evolution of Finland’s nascent radical Islamist scene. In the past two years, the number of radicalized Muslims has grown considerably and they are now more connected to like-minded individuals and organizations abroad.

This article will provide a brief introduction to radical Islam in Finland for a wider English-speaking audience as there currently exists no literature on the topic accessible to a non-Finnish speaking audience. It will focus on three themes: the radical Islamist scene in Finland, domestic terrorist activity by al-Shabab, and Muslim foreign fighters originating from Finland, particularly in Syria.

Note on research material

The material used in this article is gathered from various open sources available online, i.e. Finnish news media, various government reports and documents. Unfortunately, lack of data on the topic is a significant obstacle in researching radical Islam in Finland. While the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (FSIS, or Supo in Finnish) follows and analyzes domestic radicalization and terrorist activity constantly, vast majority of the information they collect is not publicly available for operational or legal reasons. For instance, FSIS’s files on Finnish foreign fighters in Syria will remain classified for at least 25 years, 60 at the most. Information that is made publicly available – via government documents and reports, official statements and comments– rarely offers anything more than general and ambiguous overviews.

While there is some academic literature on Muslim communities in Finland, radicalization and terrorism have been marginal topics. Of course, there has been very little to research. Radicalization is relatively recent and limited phenomenon in Finland, and there has been very little terrorist activity to research. To date there have been no terrorist attacks or failed plots in Finland by radical Islamists – despite two incidents (mis)attributed to al-Qaeda widely in Finnish media in June 2011. One notable exception to this is Suomi, Terrorismi, Supo, edited by Anssi Kullberg and published in 2011. It provides a history of terrorism and political violence in Finland, also including a chapter on radicalization and Islamist-motivated terrorist activity.

Muslim radicalization and the Radical Islamist scene in Finland

Although Finland has had Muslim minorities ever since the late 19th century, until the late 1980s only a few thousand Muslims lived in Finland. In the 1990s the Finnish Muslim population started to grow rapidly as refugees from conflict areas in the Middle East, North and East Africa arrived in Finland. By 2006, Finland had a Muslim population of approximately 40-45 000, and in 2011 it was estimated to be 50-60,000, 90% of whom were Somalis, Arabs, Kurds, Albanians, Turks, Persians, and Bosniaks. The Finnish Muslim community is predominantly Sunni, approximately only 10-15% of Finnish Muslims are Shia.

While the vast majority of Finland’s Muslim community is moderate and acts as a counterforce to radicalization, significant parts of it live in the margins of society and remain susceptible to it. 2nd generation Muslims from those ethnic groups that have had difficulties integrating and originate from conflict areas where jihadist or Islamist groups are active are particularly vulnerable. Only a small minority of those vulnerable to radicalization has actually become radicalized, and according to the latest estimate no individual ethnic group – including Finnish converts to Islam which number a little over a thousand – is particularly radicalized.  This may well be because radicalization normally occurs individually or in small social groups. The Finnish Muslim community is small and moderate, which makes it unlikely that violent radicalization is a part of a normal activity in the community, or that radicalized individuals can openly share their views – although social media has all but certainly made it easier for radicalized people to share their views. Indeed, there are no well-known radical mosques, religious figures, or organizations which promote radicalization in Finland.

Whether various non-radical but ultraconservative gateway organizations (e.g. Da’wah groups and Islamist movements) operating in Finland affect radicalization is unclear as there have been no research conducted on Islamism in Finland. However, some non-radical organizations and mosques are known to occasionally invite controversial speakers to visit Finland, which may promote radicalization among local Muslims. Most recent such visit was in March 2013, when Anjem Choudary and Awat Karkury attended an event honoring Mullah Krekar in Helsinki. It is not known who organized the event, but Mullah Krekar still enjoys support among the Kurdish population in Finland, particularly in Turku. In an interview after his visit, Choudary stated the concept of Sharia4Finland was born during his visit, although it is not yet clear whether such an organization has been or will be formed.

It is not known exactly how many Muslims in Finland have adopted a radical ideology or worldview, but in the past decade, according to FSIS director Antti Pelttari, the number of people in Finland with links to terrorist organizations has multiplied. This increase has been particularly visible in the past three years: In 2011, there were only “few tens” of radicalized individuals with connections to terrorist organizations or networks. This grew to “more than a hundred” in 2012 and the most recent estimate is “a few hundred” – most likely close to two hundred. The majority of radicalized individuals in Finland are Muslim, but it is still a tiny minority of the overall Muslim population.

It is likely that the majority of radicalized Muslims in Finland are not linked to jihadism and jihadi groups – at least among first generation Muslims – but to various separatist, leftist and Islamist groups with local agendas. According to Anssi Kullberg, 14 groups linked to terrorist attacks abroad have had a presence in Finland in the last twenty years. Only five of these groups were identified as radical Islamist or jihadist in Kullberg, 2011: al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Hizbul Islam, Ansar al-Islam and Hezbollah.

There are indicators that at least some radicalized Muslims have come to share al-Qaeda’s ideology and worldview. In 2010, both native-born Finns and foreign residents in Finland were reported to participate in and contribute to jihadist chat rooms and internet forums associated with al-Qaeda and al-Shabab. The exact number of individuals taking part in jihadist discussion boards is not known, nor is it is clear how many radicalized Muslims share al-Qaeda’s worldview or try to support its terrorist activities. However, it is probable they are more common among 2nd generation radicalized Muslims as they tend to neither fully identify with Finnish or their parents’ culture and society.

Terrorist activity in Finland

As the majority of radicalized Muslims are linked to actors and causes from their countries of origin, domestically, radicalization has predominantly led to non-violent forms of terrorist activity. Radical individuals mainly take part in various groups’ support operations, e.g. producing and hosting online propaganda, fundraising, and recruiting members. Finnish authorities naturally recognize al-Qaeda and jihadist radicals as the most pressing terrorist threat. The current FSIS threat assessment states the direct threat posed to Finland or the Finnish population by organized radical Islamist terrorism is low as radical Islamist or other terrorist organizations do not view Finland as a significant target for violent activities. However, Finnish foreign fighters returning from Syria may well have an impact on this estimation.

The most visible radical Islamist group operating in Finland is al-Shabab. This is largely due to Finland’s large Somali diaspora (there were a little under 15,000 Somali-speaking individuals in Finland in 2012) and al-Shabab’s active recruitment and presence in Finland’s Nordic neighbors. Although al-Shabab does not have a strong presence in Finland they still retain some support within the Somali community. In October, the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation and the FSIS were reported nearing the conclusion of Finland’s first ever criminal terrorist investigation, which began in 2011. Six Somali nationals who reside in Finland are likely facing prosecution for terrorist activity linked with al-Shabab, including financing terrorism, recruiting persons for the purposes of terrorism, and preparing for a criminal act with terrorist intent.

Al-Shabab is also known to have sent recruiters to Finland. The most high profile visit occurred in 2009 when Hassaan Hussein visited Finland, Norway, and Sweden to recruit vulnerable young Somalis and raise money. It is likely that al-Shabaab has managed to recruit few fighters from Finland between 2007 and 2009. Not much is known about who al-Shabab has been able to recruit or how, but one example of al-Shabab’s target demographic – and possibly its recruitment methods – is the case of “Ahmed”.

Ahmed is a young Somali man who moved to Finland when he was eight years old. He attended school in Helsinki, but felt alienated from Finnish society. His parents, likewise, objected to his western social mores. He fell in with the wrong crowd and started to commit crimes. He met his recruiters when he was 17 years old. In an interview, he stated he was enticed by the recruiters to travel to Somalia under the ruse of humanitarian work, ended up in a camp with other al-Shabab recruits in Somalia, but managed to escape to Kenya while the “true purpose” of his travel became clear to him.

Since 2011, al-Shabab’s support is believed to have decreased among the Finnish Somali community. Close association and the 2012 merger with al-Qaeda and the use of suicide bombings have affected its popularity drastically. Now, the Somali League – an umbrella organization consisting of various Somali groups in Finland –holds events to inform its members about al-Shabab’s un-Islamic character and behavior and Somali mosques often warn at-risk youth about al-Shabab’s recruiters.

According to the FSIS, currently there exists no organized and professional recruitment activity by al-Shabab in Finland. The leader of the Somali League, Arshi Said, recently stated that no recruitment takes place in Somali mosques, and that if Finnish Somalis have been recruited, it has happened happened online. The FSIS also believes this is the case. However, it is possible that al-Shabab recruiters still visit Finland to encourage young, vulnerable Somali males to travel to the conflict area. As Norwegian journalist Lars Akerhaug states, al-Shabab’s recruiters are likely to avoid Somali mosques like they do elsewhere in the Nordic countries.

It is likely they still retain some level of support. However, it is not known whether al-Shabab has any passive or active support among radicalized Muslims outside the Somali community as a result of their merger with al-Qaeda, but it seems at least one member of Somali community may have adopted al-Qaeda’s worldview and agenda before he left to fight in Syria.

Finnish Muslim Foreign Fighters

Some radicalized Finnish Muslims or Muslims residing in Finland have opted to travel abroad to fight or acquire terrorist training. During the past decade, their numbers have been increasing. The phenomenon of traveling abroad to fight or attend terrorist training camps was unknown in Finland when its first terrorism laws were being drafted in early 2000s (which is why traveling abroad for terrorist training is not a crime in Finland). Finland’s first counterterrorism strategy (from 2010) states it is possible that “people living in Finland participate or are seeking to participate in resistance struggles in their home countries or that they are trying to recruit other people to take part in armed conflicts.”

Not much attention has been given to the foreign fighter phenomenon in Finland prior to the civil war in Syria. However, there is some evidence from Finnish Muslims traveling or trying to travel abroad to fight or train in terrorist camps at least from 2006 onwards. While the numbers of Finnish foreign fighters have been growing for a while, prior to Syria the phenomenon was extremely limited: “The number is relatively small, not in the dozens,” stated FSIS director Pelttari in September 2011.

Very little is known about who these individuals are, how many there have been exactly, where they travelled and when, and whether they were recruited or not. Nor is it known how many of these left to join various separatist, nationalist, or leftist groups and how many left to take part in the global jihad. However, in case of the latter, no Finnish foreign fighters have been reported in Afghanistan or Iraq to the author’s knowledge. Former residents are known to have traveled to terrorist training camps in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan (although no Finnish citizens apparently have).

The first recorded Finnish Foreign fighter was a Finnish convert to Islam, “Abu Ibrahim”, who tried to join the jihad in Chechnya only to be arrested by the authorities in Georgia while en route to his destination. Abu Ibrahim was a 28 year old Finnish convert to Islam from Helsinki. Abu Ibrahim states he saw armed jihad as a part of his faith, and felt Chechnya would be best as a place to join the holy war, since the oppressors are the soldiers of Finland’s neighbor, Russia (with whom Finland fought two wars, 1939-40 and 1941-44). Interestingly, Abu Ibrahim’s father was a career officer in the Finnish Defence Forces.

Apart from Syria, the only other place where foreign fighters from Finland have been officially confirmed to have travelled is Somalia. However, it is not known how many individuals from Finland have travelled to Somalia and when, or who these individuals are. It is likely they were recruited between 2007 and 2009, when al-Shabab was considered more of a national resistance movement rather than a terrorist organization among the Finnish Somali diaspora. Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian researcher focusing on al-Shabab recently confirmed having heard rumors of several Finnish-Somali foreign fighters fighting for al-Shabab from a “credible source” on a research trip to Mogadishu in 2010. There is no information about Finnish Somalis fighting for or being recruited to al-Shabab after their merger with al-Qaeda, but one Finnish Somali has likely joined a jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda in Syria.

There was also a rumor of a Finnish-speaking person sighted in Eritrea, apparently on his way to join Ogaden National Liberation Front in Ethiopia. Although the FSIS did not confirm the rumor at the time, the FSIS is particularly interested in the contacts of Finland’s Somali residents with Somalia and its neighboring countries. 

Finnish foreign fighter contingent in Syria

The civil war in Syria is the first conflict that has seen a substantial amount of Finnish foreign fighters. This has been even more surprising considering the size of Finland’s Muslim population and its miniscule Syrian community.  Rumors first emerged in August 2012 when a group of Finnish converts to Islam were reported to have travelled to Northern Syria to support the rebels, although it was not clear whether they had taken part in fighting. In January 2013 information about the first Finnish foreign fighter, a 22 year old man from Espoo was published around the same time Sweden’s first “martyr”, Kamal Badri, died in Aleppo. Badri was born in Finland and his mother is a Finnish citizen.

Since then, the number of Finnish foreign fighters in Syria has consistently risen. In March, the FSIS stated approximately ten individuals had travelled to Syria and possible fought in the conflict. Interestingly in the English translation of his comments published by Yle (Finnish Broadcasting Company), this number was translated into a dozen, which is the same number that is mentioned in this report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. By June, the number was somewhere between ten and twenty according to Chief Superintendent Tuomas Portaankorva.

In August, when the first Finnish martyr was reported (his death remains unconfirmed), dozens of people from Finland had travelled to Syria to fight or provide humanitarian aid. Some individuals had allegedly even taken their families with them. One example is the unidentified man from Turku who took his pregnant wife with him when he left. Later in August, the Interior Ministry reported that the majority of approximately twenty fighters had left to Syria, majority with the intent of joining with radical Islamist groups.  This number is most likely higher now and it will continue to rise as the conflict persists.

Apart from rough estimation of the number of people that have left, very little specifics are known about the people who have left and the reasons why. Majority of those who have left are likely young, vulnerable men – although according to the FSIS few women have left too, presumably for humanitarian reasons. There are also rumors of small groups leaving and joining the conflict, although there is very little concrete evidence. The FSIS states the motives of foreign fighters vary greatly, but the key reasons for seeking involvement in a conflict are nationalist, jihadist or humanitarian. From the beginning, it has been obvious that the situation in Syria had appealed to Islamic radicals in Finland across ethnic boundaries, although no information has come to light how the conflict in Syria has affected the Finnish Shia Muslims from various ethnic groups, if at all. The vast majority of Finnish foreign fighters – unlike in Somalia and Ogaden – are likely not co-ethnic foreign fighters with a local agenda and a pre-existing connection to the conflict area. This is supported by the information that has come to light about individual Finnish foreign fighters, although out of the twenty plus foreign fighters, three profiles are hardly a comprehensive sample.

The first Finnish Foreign fighter mentioned in the media was “Muhammad”, a 22 year old Finnish Somali man from Espoo. He moved to Finland from Somalia with his family in 1992 when he was 2 years old. He grew up in Finland and went through the Finnish education system, but failed to fit in the Finnish society. Why Muhammad left to Syria is not known, but he left in December 2012 (via Turkey) and joined a radical Islamist group in Northern Syria. Based on the material he shared in social media, it is likely that he was already radicalized to some degree before leaving to Syria. Since November 2012, he has occasionally shared jihadist propaganda, particularly about Anwar al-Awlaki, on his Facebook account. In early October 2013, he shared two pictures of a recent Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) raid in Hama. It is not clear whether Muhammad is in the pictures.

The first Finnish martyr in Syria was reported in August. A young Finnish convert to Islam from Turku died in fighting between the Syrian rebels and government forces in Aleppo in late June 2013. His mother was Finnish and his father from Namibia in South-West Africa. He left to Syria with his Finnish wife, who had a baby two weeks before the man’s death. The couple is believed to have travelled to Syria – via Turkey - in the previous summer, when the man joined an unidentified rebel unit, allegedly along with some other Finnish citizens. He had recently completed his compulsory military service in Finland and expressed a desire to study Islam abroad.

A 21 year old man, “Rami” may well be one of the latest additions to Finnish foreign fighter contingent. Like the man from Turku, Rami’s mother is Finnish, but his father is from an Arab country. Rami grew up and was educated in Finland, and converted to Islam as a teenager. Before that, he had problems with his education, had alcohol issues, and committed some crimes. According to his mother, after his conversion he became a devout Muslim, finished his education, turned away from western culture, and became obsessed about Islamic dietary laws. In July 2013, he cleaned out his room, his computer, and disappeared to Turkey according to the officials. While he has contacted his family since then and claims he is not in Syria, his family believes the contrary, and there are some indicators to support their suspicions. He meticulously deleted the electronic trail of his travel arrangements, and he had enquired about traveling to Syria from the Imam at his mosque – who opposed the idea. Before leaving Finland, Rami had changed mosques.

Concluding remarks

Unfortunately, the lack of data and existing research is a considerable obstacle in analyzing the radical Islamic landscape in Finland, be the focus on radicalization, terrorist activity among various Muslim communities in Finland, or Muslims originating from Finland fighting abroad. This makes it very difficult to identify the causes and consequences of the recent developments in Finnish radical Islamic landscape. While answering the former is virtually impossible due to lack of data, two observations can be made about the latter: First, domestically, radicalization has mainly led to non-violent terrorist behavior linked to actors and causes in various conflict areas from where Finland’s Muslim communities originate. However, as the number of second generation Muslims increases, al-Qaeda’s brand of global jihadism may well become more common at the expense of local causes as those most vulnerable to radicalization often reject their parents’ society and culture as well as Finnish.

Second, those who have radicalized to the point of using extremist violence have opted to travel abroad, and their numbers are increasing. Whereas in 2003 the phenomenon was unknown in Finland according to the FSIS, now there are now more than 20 foreign fighters in Syria. However, it is important to note that not all Finnish foreign fighters who travelled abroad to join Islamist or jihadist groups, are radicalized let alone share al-Qaeda’s worldview or agenda. Yet, what has been novel about the Finnish foreign fighter in Syria is in addition to its size, it has been the fact that the vast majority come from various ethnic groups and likely do not have a pre-existing connection to the conflict area, which was not the case with Finnish foreign fighters in Somalia and Ogaden. An important research question for the future is why so many Finnish foreign fighters have travelled to Syria? External factors – Syria’s status as the cause célèbre for the global jihadi community and the relative ease of traveling to Syria compared to other conflict areas – are unlikely to explain it alone.

However, the lack of information on the foreign fighter phenomenon prior to 2012, and on individual fighters in Syria, makes it virtually impossible to form a cohesive and conclusive picture on who the Finnish foreign fighters are, and why they have gone abroad to fight, Finland now has foreign fighters that may have an impact on how the radical Islamist community evolves in Finland. Apart from the concrete security threat of radicalized Muslims with the skills and potentially the intent to undertake terrorist plots in Finland, the Nordic countries, or Europe, they have created networks with foreign radicals that may well outlast the Syrian civil war and be put to use elsewhere. Likewise, after Syria it is possible that former foreign fighters may seek to radicalize others. However, equally possible is that returning foreign fighters will return to their lives. Without understanding their motives or experiences in Syria, we can merely speculate.

What does the unprecedented number of Finnish foreign fighters in Syria say about Finland radical Islamist scene? It is evolving, growing and becoming more connected to other, more developed radicalized communities and organizations abroad. As Swedish terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp stated in 2011, Finland has not faced a similar threat of jihadist terrorism as Denmark or Sweden. However, it seems that Finland may be on a comparable trajectory. As the radicalized parts of this community are now growing and becoming increasingly interconnected, trends that have been observed elsewhere in Europe and the Nordic countries – e.g. terrorism trials, foreign fighters joining radical Islamist groups abroad, and the formation of organizations promoting radicalization among the Muslim community in the past decade are likely to become more visible in Finland in the future.

This means it is all the more important to study radical Islam in Finland. The lack of data and pre-existing literature are major obstacles that independent researchers and journalists cannot overcome alone. There are few universities, research institutions, or think tanks in Finland that focus on these issues. Instead, Islamism, radicalization, and terrorism are mainly studied as phenomena affecting others and occurring elsewhere.  However, Finland is no more immune to radical Islam than its Nordic neighbors, giving greater urgency to educate professionals – researchers, academics, and journalists – outside the FSIS who can publicaly contribute to the topic and the very polarizing public debates surrounding it.

Juha Saarinen is an independent researcher who studied at the London School of Economics and the University of St. Andrew. His research focuses on international relations, the Middle East, war, and Finnish foreign policy.

GUEST POST: Dutch Foreign Fighters – Some Testimonials from the Syrian Front #2: The Story of 28 year old Chokri Massali – Abu Walae

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.

Dutch Foreign Fighters – Some Testimonials from the Syrian Front: The Story of 28 year old Chokri Massali – Abu Walae

By Pieter Van Ostaeyen

Died on Sunday July 28th


In an earlier post I presented you the story of Abu Baseer, who died in the Battle of Khan Touman. Here is the story of one of his older brothers, who died only a few months later.


Abu Walae and two other brothers from the Netherlands were waiting for Iftaar in their base camp, when via the radio they heard that a group of Mujahideen was surrounded by al-Assad’s troops in a village nearby. The brothers quickly prepared for battle and left camp. When they arrived on the scene they were immediately fired upon by snipers. Nonetheless the war party breached the enemy ranks; after heavy fighting Abu Walae and ten other brothers were ordered to control the left flank of the occupied village.

It was a pitch dark night; they only had limited sight on the frontline. After a little while they stumbled upon Bashar’s troops and opened fire. Abu Walae turned his weapon on automatic and stormed forward; he almost immediately took a bullet through the head. This action, led by Abu Walae, resulted in the death of all 22 enemy soldiers. On our side only Abu Walae got killed, another brother got shot in his leg. Abu Walae never feard the Kufar, he was a brave man …

A man asked: “Who is the superior Martyr?” The Prophet answered: “Those who stand in the line of battle and do not turn their heads until they die. They will dwell in highest region of Paradise, their Lord will smile at them. And when Allah smiles at one, there will be no reckoning on Judgement Day.” [at-Targheeb wa’t-Tarheeb]

Earlier this week, in the wonderful battle of Khan Asal in which the life of our Belgian brother Abu Mujahid was taken, several brothers witnessed Abu Walae killing six or seven soldiers all by himself. In the end we took over the town, killing about 250 Kufar.

When the Mujahideen captured soldiers of Bashar’s army on the battle field of Khan Asal, Abu Walae offered one of the captives some of his soft drink; laughing “They don’t even realize they’ll get a one way ticket to hell.” He told another soldier “hey, I know you ! Aren’t you one of the Mujahideen from our group ?” The soldier thought he found a way to escape death and replied “yes, that’s right ! I was in your group but they captured me at the checkpoint and made me fight you guys.” Abu Walae turned to one of the brothers: “Put your weapon on automatic and shoot this guy …”

Abu Walae prayed to God frequently, asking Him to kill lots of enemies before dying as a martyr himself. He dreamt of being united in Paradise with his younger brother Abu Baseer. And Insha’allah his prayers have been answered in this Holy month of Ramadan. May these two martyred brothers be offered the favors of the Shuhadaa. What an honor for this family to have two of their sons martyred.

For a Mujahid it is very important to be tolerant towards others, for in this Jihad you will be meeting people from different nations, with different habits and cultures. Furthermore you are in a completely different country, far away from life as you knew it. You have to adapt to the situation and the variety of people you will deal with. If you do not have an open heart and are impatient then you will probably not persevere this Jihad. It is during Jihad that you will truly get to know your comrades; it is here your true friends will be revealed.

One may believe the only thing you will deal with in Jihad are bullets and shelling. A Mujahid however must also stand hunger, pain, insomnia. He must be patient with the people he meets and has to adapt to a whole new situation. Sometimes you will have to stay put for weeks, enduring hunger, cold, rain … This asks for endurance and patience.

I knew Abu Walae for years, he was my best friend. I knew him for years at home and I got to know him better, thousands of kilometers away from home, fighting on the Syrian battle field. It was an honor to get to know him better whilst fighting together. He was a great man, he became even more exalted in Jihad. The same goes for all the other brothers I knew back home and here, both in good as in harder times. Me and Abu Walae were friends, for five years we shared everything. We left for Syria together, we followed each other from basecamp to basecamp, we fought side by side on the battle field. We shared everything, every day with him was a pleasure. We spent many hours at nights sitting together drinking tea or coffee, talking with other brothers. Daily we talked about Martyrdom and how it would be like to die like a Shaheed. He always stated firmly “if that bullet comes, so be it.”

Abu Walae was a well-informed brother, his Arabic was excellent and both at home as in Syria he was very involved with Dawah. He offered help to other brothers translating Arabic for them. If the brothers had any questions, he patiently took his time to explain everything in length. He did this in a humble way, never humiliating them with his knowledge. Other wise people could learn from Abu Walae. He was straightforward in his words yet easily forgiving.

Jihad without patience is impossible and our brother Abu Walae was a very patient man. Here you have to cope by yourself; there is no loving mother here cooking and washing for you. Here you learn to be independent. Jihad is a school of life; it’s not only fighting, you learn to be obedient and disciplined. If you fail to be patient, if you do not have these virtues, you will fail in Jihad. In a way your Jihad starts before you leave for the battle field. You will have to fight your own will, your doubts and fears. You will be in two minds, thinking about your family, you will worry. You have to be strong to overcome these feelings and to take the next step.

Abu Walae enjoyed Jihad even despite the hardship and sacrifices. Those who didn’t wage Jihad will hardly understand but for Muslims here’s a comparison. The Holy Month of Ramadan means fasting during the day and praying at night time. Both the fasting and praying are hard to endure, yet we see Ramadan as a time of joy, time flies by because of this. The same stands for Jihad; as in Ramadan, we are surrounded with brothers and close friends, you feel close to Allah.

It is quite evident why Abu Walae enjoyed Jihad. Jihad bestows the Ummah with life and nobleness, it is a source of victories for the Muslims. As we witnessed, leaving Jihad means indignation and dismay. Although at times you will have no food, no shelter, sleeping under trees or on a concrete floor, the Mujahid feels joy and satisfaction. Compare this with living in the West, where, despite having all they need, people live in sorrow and depression.

About a month ago, a brother had a dream about Abu Walae. He saw him drinking and asked what it was. Abu Walae said he was drinking the wine of Paradise. This brother saw this dream as a prediction of his Martyrdom. He later talked Abu Walae about this dream and Abu Walae answered that there was no worth in this life, that he wanted to be with Allah. Indeed a few weeks later Abu Walae was martyred.

Abu Walae’s mother had a similar dream. She saw her son entering the living room wearing his qamis, his gun over his left shoulder. He approached his mother and embraced her firmly. “My son, did you return?” “No,” he said, “I came to see you and will go back.” This dream was like a confirmation for his family that Abu Walae would die as a Martyr.

My family told me about the faith and perseverance the family of Abu Walae shows. This mother sacrificed two of her sons and when Allah will ask her what she did in her life she can tell Him she raised two sons whom she sacrificed for Allah’s cause. How many are there who can claim that these days ? Is there a greater sacrifice any mother can make ? May Allah protect her and unite her with her two martyred sons in Paradise.

If parents in the Netherlands love their children, they shouldn’t stand between them and Paradise. Indeed, they should give their children the example by first sending in the fathers to fight Jihad. Abu Walae cared deeply for his mother, he understood why for Islam it is so important to take good care of your mother. If he heard about one of the brothers not calling home for a long time, he would reprimand them. He would talk to the brother and convince him to call home. He was one of the brothers who took good care for the younger brothers from The Netherlands.

We ask Allah to accept our brother as a Martyr and to reunite us all in Paradise. Oh Allah, favor us with martyrdom and take our blood, our possessions, our effort and our sacrifices until it favors you.

Your Brothers from Bilad as-Sham

GUEST POST: Dutch Foreign Fighters – Some Testimonials from the Syrian Front

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.

Dutch Foreign Fighters – Some Testimonials from the Syrian Front

By Pieter Van Ostaeyen 


A while ago I documented Belgian Jihadi’s in Syria quite meticulously, even though source material is rather limited. Especially on social media the Belgian fighters seem to be keeping a rather low profile. Exactly the opposite stands for their “colleagues” from The Netherlands. It didn’t take too much trouble to stumble upon quite lengthy posts on all kinds of social media platforms. As opposed to my earlier work on the Belgians, I will not give an overview of who left, got killed or returned home; in these posts I will present some personal stories of the Dutch foreign fighters. This will be the first part in a series of posts on the topic.

Their Armor:

The armor of the Dutch Mujahideen:

  • A Kalashnikov AK46 and 6 extra magazines
  • A Makarov pistol
  • Two handgrenades: one defensive, one offensive
  • A sharp knife
  • A Casio watch

This photo was taken an hour before a battle in the larger Homs area. The operation counted 150 fighters against about 400 regime forces.


Perhaps the most important belonging of a Dutch fighter is a translation of the Qur’an.

(This one is the translation by Fred Leemhuis (ISBN 90 269 4078 5), without any doubt the best translation of the Qur’an in Dutch)


The story of Mujahid Mourad Massali – Abu Baseer


It was at the end of 2012 when we in Holland said goodbye to Abu Baseer. We were going training that evening but Abu Baseer came with the intention of saying farewell to the brothers. At first Abu Baseer didn’t want to participate in the training but after some brothers insisted he joined in. After the training we said farewell, Abu Baseer embraced us and asked for forgiveness. We later found out that this was to be the last night Abu Baseer was amongst us.

Abu Baseer is a brother who inspired many in The Netherlands to take the path of Jihad. He always called for truth, whether at work, in the streets, in the Mosque and even from Syria. He called us from Syria and told us about the beauty of Jihad; we would be foolish not to come over.  This brother had everything he could wish for living in The Netherlands; he had a college degree, was married at the age of 20 and was soon to become father, he had a good job and lived with his wife in his own house. He was a lucky young man and yet he choose to sacrifice his life fighting for the cause of Allah.

It was not only the love for Allah that made Abu Baseer leave for Syria, but more importantly his love for the Ummah. For when a Muslim sees the suffering of the Syrian people, he sees them as if they were his own parents, his own children. It cannot be that the tears from our mothers in The Netherlands are more important than the tears of the hundreds of thousands Syrian mothers. These Syrian women lose husbands, children and family daily. These women get killed, raped or tortured. These women we see as our own mothers, we feel their grief as if it was our own. The same applies for the Syrian men and children who we see as our own kin.

If I would have to describe Abu Baseer in one word, I would use ‘Izz (honor). He was a man of honor and strength loyal to his Brothers. When he heard some Muslims were in hardship he always was the first to start collecting money to help them out. Whenever you were in trouble, Abu Baseer was there to help you out.

We arrived in Syria a month after him, we had to wait before meeting him because he was on a mission protecting the borders. Me and the Brothers were in the [military] training camp at that point. He was on his mission on the front for over 40 days. On missions like this you are at guard, facing the enemy constantly. Sometimes sleeping in your battle gear.

It was later that evening I saw Abu Baseer again. It had been about two months ago. We embraced; a moment not to forget. We spent hours with the brothers around a fire, talking about The Netherlands. And there we were in the blessed land of as-Sham al-Mujahideen. It was a dream to be participating in Jihad and Allah’s blessing to be in the company of an old group of friends.

Abu Baseer always had a prominent role on the battlefield. His courage and caring for wounded brothers are remembered. He was always the first on the frontline; even though he was younger, he engaged us all in Jihad.

The Battle of Khan Touman

We heard about a major battle coming up. It was directed against a major army base. That morning we left in several groups towards Khan Touman. Our orders were strict; no prisoners were to be taken and there was no such thing as retreat. We said goodbye to each other, we made some photos …

We divided into seven platoons. In total we were about 500 taking on about 2000 or more in open field. We were to attack after dusk. The platoon of Abu Baseer, led by Abu Baraa al-Homsi, was one of the first in battle. After initial silence, suddenly fire broke loose on Abu Baseer’s front. The group had overrun al-Assad’s troops and penetrated deep into enemy frontlines. Those who returned, told me bullets and bombs were all around but didn’t hit the brothers. One of the wonders they told about was that a mortar grenade landed in their middle and didn’t explode.

The next day me, Abu Baseer’s brother and other brothers we knew from The Netherlands, were sent to reinforce another frontline. Abu Baseer was there, he welcomed us and we decided to fight side by side. A dream came true. Every Muslim caring for Jihad dreams about fighting side by side with his brothers. Fighting the enemies of the Ummah. Who would have known this when we were in The Netherlands ?

After the evening prayer the enemy had fallen back to its original positions. I would protect this outpost together with Abu Baseer and four other Ansar during nighttime. It was a cold night and we were hungry. We had almost no blankets and slept on a concrete floor. Some of us hadn’t slept in over 48 hours. And yet in turn we had to take guard and stay on the look-out for the enemy. It is in times like this you experience Jihad an-Nafs fully; the internal strife you’re going through is but a reflection of the external battle you experience. But if you lose your internal strife it will reflect on battle and vice versa.

After we prayed Fajr we were going to the front line and awaited the enemy. This time they returned with more heavy weapons, covered by tank fire and heavy artillery. At a certain point I lost track of Abu Baseer and went out looking for him at the front. After I didn’t find him there, I returned to the other Dutch brothers. It is at this time we ran into Abu Baseer; he was carrying a box of food and fruit. We never knew where he got it, but he by himself thus provided over twenty men with breakfast. This is how Abu Baseer always thought about his brothers first and why we loved him so deeply.

After we ate Abu Baseer told me it would be better if we would reinforce the right flank because fighting was heavier there. We asked the Amir for permission to go there. Once arrived we ran into some brothers with food and drinks. One of them offered us some energy drinks; Abu Baseer took one and put it in my vest saying “here, take this, you’ll need it.” When the brother offered Abu Baseer one, he decisively said: “no, no, not for me, today I will drink in Paradise.”

The fighting was heavy, it was the last outpost of the enemy. We were under heavy fire from tanks. Luckily the Mujahideen as well had tanks and anti-tank rockets. Our Amir Abu al-Baraa had a rocket launcher he wanted to use on one of the tanks that shelled us constantly. He asked for volunteers to approach the tank. Abu Baseer was the first one to volunteer, I went with him.

The three of us now had to cross an open field, with only some high grass as cover. One of the brothers helped us cutting the barbed wire and we ran into the open land. They fired upon us with all they had; machine guns and snipers. The tank didn’t spot us yet but we were under heavy fire. Abu al-Baraa and Abu Baseer were three feet in front of me, they were going to fire the rocket at the tank which was only fifty feet away. When the tank spotted us it fired at us with its heavy machine gun and soon the shelling started.

The rocket, although it was brand new, blocked. Abu al-Baraa ordered me to go back to the others and return with the brother specialized in using these rockets. So once again I had to run across the field while the enemy had us in sight. The last thing I heard was Abu Baseer advising me to keep to the right. This was to be the last time he spoke to me…

When I arrived back I explained the situation to the others, the brother was to prepare to return back with me. Suddenly we heard via the radio one of us was martyred at the right flank. Some rushed in to get the body of the martyr. When I saw Abu al-Baraa and the others returning with a body, I knew Abu Baseer got what he wanted; to die as a Shaheed. Abu Baseer had been shot in the neck. We buried our friend the same day, a smile on his face.

A few hours after Abu Baseer died we took over the enemy base, after only two days  of battle. We later destroyed the tank that caused Abu Baseer’s death. We captured 27 hidden bunkers stuffed with weapons and ammunition and two million liters of diesel. This was a marvelous victory, a glorious day to die as a Martyr. We later realized it was only because Allah wanted it we were victorious in this battle.

A month later I ran into Abu al-Baraa again; he told us he asked Abu Baseer moments before his death whether he was afraid. He answered: “Why should I be afraid when I will be in Paradise soon?”

We ask Allah to take care of Abu Baseer’s relatives and to accept him as true Martyr. We ask Allah to reunite us in Paradise, Oh Allah favor us with martyrdom, take our blood, our belongings and our endeavors untilled You are satisfied with us.

Your brother Abu Jandal

Pieter Van Ostaeyen

Master Medieval History 1999
Master Arabic & Islamic Studies 2003

GUEST POST: “Turkish Fighters in Syria, Online and Off”

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.

Past Guest Posts:

Mark Youngman, “Book Review of David Malet’s “Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts”,” June 20, 2013.

Hazim Fouad, “Salafi-Jihadists and non-jihadist Salafists in Egypt – A case study about politics and methodology (manhaj),” April 30, 2013.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Tara Vassefi, “Perceptions of the “Arab Spring” Within the Salafi-Jihadi Movement,” November 19, 2012.

Jack Roche, “The Indonesian Jamā’ah Islāmiyyah’s Constitution (PUPJI),” November 14, 2012.

Kévin Jackson, “The Pledge of Allegiance and its Implications,” July 27, 2012.

Behnam Said, “A Brief Look at the History and Power of Anasheed in Jihadist Culture,” May 31, 2012.

Jonah Ondieki and Jake Zenn, “Gaidi Mtaani,” April 24, 2012.

Joshua Foust, “Jihadi Ideology Is Not As Important As We Think,” January 25, 2011.

Charles Cameron, “Hitting the Blind-Spot- A Review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s “Apocalypse in Islam,” January 24, 2011.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Why Jihadi Ideology Matters,” January 21, 2011.

Joshua Foust, “Some Inchoate Thoughts on Ideology,” January 19, 2011.

Marissa Allison, “Militants Seize Mecca: Juhaymān al ‘Utaybī and the Siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca,” June 9, 2010.

Turkish Fighters in Syria, Online and Off

By North Caucasus Caucus

Click here for a PDF version of this post


This piece provides a granular look at the backgrounds of Turkish citizens fighting in Syria, building on a recent article by Soner Cagaptay and Aaron Y. Zelin on the challenges Turkey may face in the future emanating from jihadis operating near Turkey’s southern border and the eventual return home of Turkish jihadis. While I have spent a considerable amount of time living, working and studying in Turkey, I am by no means an expert on Turkish jihadi groups or jihadi movements in general. I am a researcher on the politics of the Caucasus, but while researching foreign fighters in Syria from the Caucasus, I continually noted their engagement with Turkish jihadi material and felt it was an issue that needed further exploration.


Over the last three decades, Turkish citizens have travelled to fight and die in conflicts both close and distant. Turkish citizens have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan (both against the Soviets and the United States), Bosnia, and the North Caucasus, sometimes occupying leadership positions in Islamist armed groups.  For example, Cevdet Doger (aka Emir Abdulla Kurd) was second-in-command of foreign fighters in the North Caucasus before his death in May 2011.


Cevdet Doger and recovered Turkish identification tables, Source: sehidler.com

I will not venture to estimate how many Turkish citizens are fighting in Syria. In August 2012, Turkish journalist Adem Ozkose reported on the deaths of four Turkish fighters in Aleppo and said they were part of a group of 50 Turks fighting in that region. In the year since, it is conceivable that this number has grown along with Syria’s general population of foreign fighters.


There is a large amount of Turkish pro-jihadi material on Facebook relating to Syria. For example, the page, “Suriye İslam Devrimini Destekliyoruz,” (“We Support Syria’s Islamic Revolution”) has over 11,000 “Likes.” Al-Nusra Front (Nusret Cephesi in Turkish) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) both have Turkish language fan pages which are regularly shut down by Facebook but are always quickly reestablished. Turks interested in following jihadi activity in Syria are not wanting for online news coverage.

Just as Arabic-language material is translated and posted on Turkish-language sites, material from Turkish languages pages makes its way to Islamist users from other countries. For example, the pro-Islamist Turkish news website, Islah Haber, which regularly publishes news on Turkish fighter activity and deaths, uploaded an Arabic language video on 9 July 2013  that included several Turks speaking (with Arabic subtitles) about why they went to Syria. One fighter emphasized Assad’s killing of women and children and the hope of establishing a sharia-based state as a prime motivator.


The caption identifies him as “Abdullah Azzam the Turk, connected to Thughur Bilad al Sham,” Source: Islah Haber

YouTube videos are sometimes used in recruitment efforts. The Russian language website, fisyria.com, released a video on 03 July 2013 from Emir Seyfullah, an ethnic Chechen and then-spokesman of ISIS-affiliate Jaish al-Muhajirin wa Ansar. In the video, Emir Seyfullah speaks in heavily accented Turkish, calling for Turks to come help establish sharia in the land of Sham; his speech is intercut with footage of Syrian military jets on bombing runs. Jamestown’s Mairbek Vatchagaev wrote that Seyfullah is from the Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia. However, it is possible that he lived in Istanbul before the war in Syria. Many former fighters from the North Caucasus continue to live in Turkey. This has led to violence in the past, such as the September 2011 assassination of two former fighters, allegedly by Russian security services, in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu neighborhood.


Screenshot of YouTube video about Turkish martyrs in Syria

The amount of material about Syria uploaded onto YouTube in all languages is nearly endless. However, one recent video provided insight into the extent of Turkish fighter involvement in Syria. On 05 July 2013, an account (now-deleted), associated with the Facebook page, “Suriye Devrimi Sehidleri,” (“Martyrs of the Syrian Revolution”) uploaded a video entitled, “Turkiyeli Sehidler” (Martyrs from Turkey). The video shows the images of 27 different alleged Turkish fighters killed in Syria. Some of the photos included full names, some noms-de-guerre, and others include hometowns in Turkey. The Turks in the video came from many different parts of the country, but eastern Turkey stood out, particularly Gazianatep, Diyarbakir, and Adana. The men ranged in age from as young as 17 to old men with long grey beards. Below is additional detail on three of the fighters, each case providing interesting insight into the different roles Turkish foreign fighters are playing in Syria, as well as insight into their backgrounds in Turkey.



Headline from Yalova regional news website, “A martyr killed by Assad’s soldiers is buried,” Source: Bolge.com.tr

Ahmet Zorlu, with his long hair and goatee is one of the most recognizable faces on Turkish jihadi social media. Since his death, his image regularly appears in al-Nusra Front Turkish language fan pages and other pro-jihadi Turkish language media.

The 30-year-old, also known as Emir Ahmed Seyyaf, was killed along with four other Turkish fighters in an operation in Han el-Asel, near Aleppo in March 2013. Zorlu, reportedly a leader of a group of Turkish fighters, likely arrived in Syria a few months prior to the battle in Han el-Asel.

After his death, his body was returned from Syria to his hometown of Yalova, south of Istanbul on the shores of the Marmara Sea. A large funeral was held at the Yalova Central Mosque, and he was buried in the city’s cemetery. A video of the funeral can be found here. The return of the body across the border, as well as the highly visible and public nature of the funeral and burial, indicate that his “martyrdom” was not a closely guarded secret.


Banner photo from Turkish language al-Nusra Facebook fan page: the text reads, “The lands of Sham love martyrs.”


Originally from Adiyaman Province, Abudrrahman Koc is the oldest of the three men, sporting a long greying beard before he arrived in Syria. Koc was a community leader, serving as president of a religious NGO named Garip Der (Garipler Yardımlaşma ve Dayanışma Derneği or Guraba Muslims Association). As recently as June 2012, Koc spoke at a large forum organized by Ozgur Der (Freedom Association) entitled, “We Have Brothers in Prison.” Established in 2010 and based in the conservative Fatih neighborhood of Istanbul, Garip Der organized the printing and delivery of religious literature to imprisoned Muslims.

Koc arrived in Syria in early January 2013. A video of Koc, likely taken shortly after his arrival in Syria, shows him awkwardly taking target practice and discussing the beautiful weather. A sniper reportedly killed Koc during an attack on the Mengh Airbase near Azaz on 02 July 2013. A group of 12 Islamic NGOs (a list can be found here) organized prayers for Koc and other martyrs killed in Syria and Afghanistan at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on 07 July 2013. The general director for Ozgur Der, Ridvan Kaya, delivered a eulogy on Koc followed by a march. Marchers carried a banner bearing Koc’s face along with pictures of Zorlu and other martyrs.


Left: Koc speaking at Ozgur Der event in June 2012, Source: Time Turk
Right: Koc (left) poses with two other fighters, Source: Haksozhaber

At least one of Koc’s associates from Garip Der went with, or followed, him later to Syria. Yakup Senatas, a Kurd from the southeastern town of Siverek was reportedly killed in Syria several weeks after Koc on 25 July 2013 also in the fighting at Mengh Airbase. Photos of the two men appeared on social media soon after Senates death. One photo at a rally in Istanbul show—Koc leading a group of protestors while Senates holds a banner.


Koc (center) speaks into megaphone while Senates holds banner, Source: Facebook


Metin Ekinci died fighting in Aleppo in August 2012. His death was initially reported on Syrian state television, where his Turkish state ID was aired along with a photo of his body. A funeral service was held in Ekinci’s native Bingol Province at the Haci Hasip Mosque, and hazsozhaber.net published the text of a special sermon given in Ekinici’s honor. Before going to Syria, Ekinci had been connected with at least one religious NGO. In November 2011, Ekinci spoke at an Izmir, Turkey-based organization, Ilim; Der (Wisdom Foundation). The content of the speech was relatively moderate and focused on basic religious issues. Ilim; Der is an Islamic research and cultural foundation. Its website produces a number of lectures with Saudi and other Arab religious figures with Turkish subtitles. The most interesting aspect of Ekinci’s martyrdom is the fact that his brother, Azad Ekinci, was one of the most wanted men in Turkey less than ten years earlier.


Left: YouTube video of Ekinici speaking at Ilim;Der Right: Ekinci in Syria. Screenshot is from “Turkiyeli Sehitleri” video.


Azad Ekcinci was implicated in the 20 November 2003 bombing of the HSBC building in Istanbul, part of a series of al-Qaeda linked bombings in that city which killed 57 people. He was identified as being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and had a code name: “Abu Nidal.” It was later reported that Azad Ekinci died in a suicide attack in Iraq in January 2004, though law enforcement officials in Istanbul denied these claims.


As Zelin and Cagatay pointed out in their article, Turkey could face some serious issues as the conflict in Syria continues—concerns stemming from the uncertainty of where jihadis will turn their attention once the fight is over in Syria. Fighters’ connections to various charities and NGOs suggest at least an informal network of supporters among more conservative religious elements in Turkey. As the conflict drags on, it is likely that Turks will continue to travel to Syria to fight and establish links to the international jihadi networks that dominate the fighting in Syria’s north.


Man carries picture of Ahmet Zorlu at march at Fatih Mosque, 07 July 2013, Source: HaksozHaber

North Caucasus Caucus is written by a Washington, D.C.-based analyst. Views here are his alone. Read more at northcaucasuscaucus.blogspot.com.

EXCLUSIVE GUEST POST: The Indonesian Jamā’ah Islāmiyyah’s Constitution (PUPJI)

NOTE: As with all guest posts, the opinions expressed below are those of the guest author and they do not 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. Pieces should be no longer than 2,000 words please.

The below guest post is from the Australian Jack Roche who is a former member of Jamā’ah Islāmiyyah. Roche was trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and was arrested in November 2002 for a plot against the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, Australia. Roche later said that he did not intend to carry out the plot.  After his arrest Roche helped provide vital information and intelligence on al-Qaeda and Jamā’ah Islāmiyyah. Roche was convicted to four and a half years in prison, and was released in May 2007 after serving his time. Below he explains Jamā’ah Islāmiyyah’s constitution based on his perspective and background. He also has provided an English translation of the entire constitution, which you can read here.

Past Guest Posts:

Kévin Jackson, “The Pledge of Allegiance and its Implications,” July 27, 2012.

Behnam Said, “A Brief Look at the History and Power of Anasheed in Jihadist Culture,” May 31, 2012.

Jonah Ondieki and Jake Zenn, “Gaidi Mtaani,” April 24, 2012.

Joshua Foust, “Jihadi Ideology Is Not As Important As We Think,” January 25, 2011.

Charles Cameron, “Hitting the Blind-Spot- A Review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s “Apocalypse in Islam,” January 24, 2011.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Why Jihadi Ideology Matters,” January 21, 2011.

Joshua Foust, “Some Inchoate Thoughts on Ideology,” January 19, 2011.

Marissa Allison, “Militants Seize Mecca: Juhaymān al ‘Utaybī and the Siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca,” June 9, 2010.

PUPJI: Pedoman Umum Perjuangan Jamaah Islamiyah (General Guidelines for the Struggle of (an/the) Islāmic Group)

By Jack Roche

PUPJI was a document produced by the Indonesian based group JI, that is, Jamaah Islamiyah – the Islāmic Group. Once produced, production was merely the photo-copying, scanning or retyping of an extant original. It was only available to high-ranking members within the group (as attested to by Nasir Abas [a former high ranking member of JI] in his book)…‘the Amir of Al Jamaah al Islāmiyah, daily executive Amir (a person who has authority like the Amir), members of the Markaziy (Majlis Qiyādah Markazīyah) – Central Command Administration, and regional leaders as well as staff members (Majlis Qiyādah Wakālah – Proxy Command Administration)’.[1] [2]

In order to partially answer why it was that PUPJI was not made available to rank and file members, it is perhaps prudent to refer to a statement given by Nasir Abas:

‘…knowledge of PUPJI is restricted to the level of leader and above alone. Other members are guided and given instructions without the knowledge that those guidelines and instructions originate from the book of guidelines for the daʿwah of Al Jamaah al Islāmiyah, namely PUPJI, and without in fact having any knowledge of PUPJI. Likewise also, not all members of the Al Jamaah al Islāmiyah organization have ever physically seen the book of PUPJI but there are those who have knowledge of its existence or have heard of it but never actually seen it.’[3]

Whilst this does not completely answer the question of why the restricted availability of PUPJI, it does signpost guidance and instruction within JI being given by those personnel that have been made privy to PUPJI. Were it to be the case that copies of PUPJI were made available to each and every member of JI, then without correct supervision all manner of individual interpretations would abound. Such a system would be no system at all other than a form of anarchy. The distribution of PUPJI is therefore a managerial strategy, one that aligns itself with Islāmic methodology (namely that command comes from above) and ‘those personnel that have been made privy’, that is those individuals who possess a reasonably high degree of Islāmic knowledge and/or knowledge of the mechanisms and objectives of JI as a whole as well as leadership skills, are tasked with disseminating the precepts contained within PUPJI towards those members of JI tasked under their care.

PUPJI describes itself as,…‘a general objective that is able to provide a systematic overview for the motivational steps of a jamāʿah that integrates careful, objective standardized principles and operational measures’. This clause of PUPJI gels with the description given by Nasir Abas, that it was ‘…conferral of a systematic illustration of the Jamaah’s steps which are cohesive between the principal values (Islām) and the undertaking of actions that are prudent, guided, and regulated’.[4] It is within this context that it acts as a ‘guide-book’ or ‘book of guidelines’ for the workings of a/the jamā‘ah – that is a group that functions within and along Islāmic principles. For these reasons one often hears it described as JI’s constitution.

JI was officially formed around January of 1993 when some members of NII (Negara Islām Indonesia – Islāmic State of Indonesia) group broke away from its leadership. The breakaway members were ‘lead’ by ‘Abdullāh Sungkar and Abū Bakar Ba’asyir. Many of the members of NII had undergone training in Afghanistan under the auspices of such individuals as Shaikh ‘Abdur-Rabb rasul Sayyaf. Whilst the members of JI were now detached from NII, they were still able to make use of whatever facilities were available for training in Afghanistan.

As a group/organization, NII possessed ‘state statutes’.[5]  This is something that is often overlooked when examining the genealogy of JI, that is it is seldom made mention of. These ‘state statutes’ had been drawn up by, amongst others, S. M. Kartosoewirjo when he proclaimed the Islāmic Nation of Indonesia (NII) in a regional area in West Java on the 7th of August 1949. According to Nasir Abas, they were in book form and known as ‘Pedoman Dharma Bhakti’ (Negara Islam Indonesia) – ‘Manual of Devotional Obligations’ (Islāmic State of Indonesia) and ‘Qanun Asasi’ (sometimes referred to as Qanun Azasi) – ‘Founding Principles’ or ‘Statutes’, ‘Constitution’).[6]

In fact, ‘Pedoman Dharma Bhakti’ was a conglomeration of a number of smaller publications. These included, ‘Qanun Azasi’, ‘UU Hukum Pidana’ (Criminal Laws), ‘Maklumat Imam’ (Edicts of the Leader), ‘Maklumat Militer’ (Military Edicts), ‘Maklumat Komandemen Tertinggi’ (High Command Edicts), ‘Statement Pemerintah’ (Government Statement), and ‘Manifesto Politik’ (Political Manifesto). It is reasonable to determine that PUPJI was in fact a revised version of those publications.

Whilst ‘Pedoman Dharma Bhakti’ was written in Indonesian, PUPJI was written in both Indonesian and Arabic, wherein the main text is Indonesian and ‘references’ being in Arabic. ‘References’ within the document are quotations from Al Qur‘ān and the aḥādīth (‘sayings’) or Sunnah (sayings, non-sayings, actions or non-actions of the Prophet Muḥammad).

I was taught in 1996/97 that the principles upheld by JI towards the individuals within the group, and as such inculcated and practiced, were in accordance with those adhered to and upheld as belonging to the ‘aqīdah (belief) of the Ahlus Sunnah wa’l Jamā‘ah minhajus-Salafuṣ-Ṣāli. The beliefs of the Ahlus Sunnah wa’l Jamā‘ah is the belief and method of that which the Messenger of Allāh came with, and how his Ṣaḥābat understood this belief and their application of this method.

Ahlus Sunnah wa’l Jamāfiah minhajus-Salafuṣ-Ṣāli is explainable as:

Those who adhere to the Sunnah [of the Prophet Muḥammad] and who are assembled together in a group and who follow the methodology and practices of the Pious Predecessors. The ‘Pious Predecessors’ are the 1st three generations of Muslims, namely:

  1. The Prophet Muḥammad and his Ṣaḥābat (companions who followed the Prophet Muḥammad in his application of the Deen (religion) of Islām);
  2. The Tābi‘īn (followers of the Ṣaḥābat);
  3. The Tābi‘at-Tābi‘īn (followers of the followers of the Ṣaḥābat)].

The basis of Ahlus Sunnah wa’l Jamā‘ah is upon such aḥādīth as:

It was narrated from ‘Awf bin Mālik that the Messenger of Allāh said: “The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy in Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which will be in Hell and one in Paradise. I swear by the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muḥammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allāh who are they?” He said: “Al Jamā‘ah – The main body.” (Sunan Ibnu Mājah 3992).


“…adhere to my sunnah and the sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs…” (Sunan At-Tirmidhī 2685).

The general principles espoused within PUPJI are influenced by the likes of such people as Muḥammad bin ‘Abdul-Wahhāb, Abū’l A‘lā Maudūdī, and Sayyid Qutb. This would also have been the case for many of the precepts contained within the ‘state statutes’ of NII. However, since PUPJI was drawn up in 1996, its precepts were also influenced by the likes of ‘Abdullāh fiAzzam, Ayman Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī, and Usāmah bin Lādin, amongst others. This influence is in no small part due to the presence of NII members under training in Afghanistan in the 80’s and 90’s wherein the ideals espoused by those latter mentioned individuals were commonplace. In effect, the creation of JI in 1993 and hence the ‘constitution’ of PUPJI in 1996 was in large part to some of the ideologues espoused by those latter mentioned individuals.

This is hinted at by Nasir Abas when he mentions that his exposure to the ideals contained within ‘Pedoman Dharma Bhakti’ was sometime around 1992 when Abū Bakar Ba’asyir visited the camp he was at ‘Camp Towrkham’ in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. I personally recall hearing of ‘Abdullāh Sungkar attending a meeting in Afghanistan in the mid 90’s. This meeting was called for by Usāmah bin Lādin and those who attended were leaders of various Islāmic groups throughout the world. The essence of the meeting was the creation of a global network of like-minded groups in order to counter those non-Muslim forces/powers deemed to applying aggression towards Islām. Thus, both Abū Bakar Ba’asyir and ‘Abdullāh Sungkar moved in the same circles as ‘Abdullāh fiAzzam, Ayman Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī, and Usāmah bin Lādin, for a number of years so much so, that ties of mutual cooperation existed between both JI and Al Qaidah. (In fact, this relationship of mutual cooperation between the two groups is mentioned in a personal communication between myself and Abdur-Rahim the son of Abū Bakar Ba’asyir).

All of the people named as having influenced the general principles espoused within PUPJI are generally considered within the realm of Western thought to be radical and extremist in their ideologies. Thus, as a rule, it has been concluded that since the source of the Islāmic principles inherent within PUPJI is from the aforementioned people, then the content of PUPJI is itself radical and extremist.

The generally held assessment of PUPJI therefore is that it is held to be radical and thus, in the parlance of Western thought, extreme (Unfortunately both of these terms, radical and extreme, are interchangeable within today’s English language even though the one does not necessarily equate to the other). However, be that as it may, there is no doubting the professionalism and depth inherent within PUPJI as a document. It is unfortunate that prior to this translation of PUPJI the only ‘available’ references in English (and for that matter in Indonesian) to PUPJI were that of a synopsis of PUPJI’s contents and a far from complete translation. My use of the word ‘available’ is because the original is actually nowhere to be found except in a very few hands throughout the world. Basically it is kept under wraps.

In my opinion, this is a sad state of affairs since there is actually nothing within its contents that is unheard of throughout any search within any internet browser, which is not already readily ‘available’. My main reason for ‘putting it out there’ is to remove whatever mystery appears to cloud PUPJI as a document.

[2] The copy that has been translated here is dated May 1996, which coincides with the time that I perchance saw a copy belonging to Abdur-Rahim Ayub, the Amir of JI in Australia, laying on his photo-copying machine in his Sydney apartment around 1996/97.

[4] Ibid., p. 82.

[5] Nasir Abas, Uncovering Jamafiah Islamiyah, p. 67.

[6] Ibid.

GUEST POST: The Pledge of Allegiance and its Implications

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 represent at all his employer at the Washington Institute for Near East.

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 Global Jihadism. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email your idea/post to azelin [at] jihadology [dot] net. Pieces should be no longer than 2,000 words please.

Past Guest Posts:

Behnam Said, “A Brief Look at the History and Power of Anasheed in Jihadist Culture,” May 31, 2012.

Jonah Ondieki and Jake Zenn, “Gaidi Mtaani,” April 24, 2012.

Joshua Foust, “Jihadi Ideology Is Not As Important As We Think,” January 25, 2011.

Charles Cameron, “Hitting the Blind-Spot- A Review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s “Apocalypse in Islam,” January 24, 2011.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Why Jihadi Ideology Matters,” January 21, 2011.

Joshua Foust, “Some Inchoate Thoughts on Ideology,” January 19, 2011.

Marissa Allison, “Militants Seize Mecca: Juhaymān al ‘Utaybī and the Siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca,” June 9, 2010.

By Kévin Jackson

Defining al Qa’ida’s membership has always represented a divise issue among analysts. I’ll approach this topic by focusing on a fundamental practice commonly used by jihadi organizations, namely vowing an oath of allegiance or bay’a.

In a nutshell, the bay’a procedure constitutes the cornerstone defining one’s membership. A longstanding ritual featuring in the early Islamic tradition, giving bay’a (individually or collectively) consists in recognizing the legitimacy of a group/state leader authority. The covenant between the amir (leader) and the one who gives the bay’a lies in listening and obeying, in hard and easy times, as long as the amirship follows the right path. Rendering allegiance to the amir of al Qa’ida, for example, would thus imply not to dispute his and/or al Qa’ida’s commanders’ directives and to fully support the organization’s agenda.

The Bay’a has been institutionalized within the jihadi milieu for the doctrinal foundations it acts upon stress the mandatory aspect of such a practice. Given that joining a jama’ah (group) of mujahidin is seen as an obligation (wajib) upon every Muslim and cannot be done except with a pledge of allegiance, the bay’a is thus considered as such too. From an organizational perspective, these doctrinal regulations secure the loyalty and cohesion within the ranks, while preventing core attrition by tightly  binding new recruits through a formal covenant.

It is worthwhile underlining the contractual aspect of this longstanding ritual drawing lines of demarcation between jihadi organizations. If the one giving the oath promises to listen and obey whatever the hardships, the one receiving it is also entitled to fulfill his obligations as the amir. This counterpart from the leader amounts to a continuous commitment to respect the covenant provisos and serve the interests of Islam and Muslims through the policy he implements. The amirship also requires certain characteristics, which, for al Qa’ida, revolve around knowledge, experience, ethical qualities, etc.

On the other hand, a bay’a has to be accepted before one can be considered as a sworn member/organization. This decision falls upon the amir‘s goodwill and depends on the extent to which would-be comers meet the required criteria prescribed by the organization leadership. As a result, 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. This explains why 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.

For example, while Harakat al Shabab al Mujahidin had pledged their loyalty to Usama bin Ladin in September 2009, the Somali group couldn’t be portrayed as being part of al Qa’ida without any further confirmation by the mothership in the Pakistan’s tribal areas. This changed only after February 2012, following a joint statement of Ayman al Zawahiri (amir of al Qa’ida)  and Mukhtar Abu’l Zubayr (amir of al Shabab), where the Egyptian officially accepted al Shabab under al Qa’ida’s direction. This is the type of acknoweldgement which should be looked at to draw accurate distinctions between jihadi factions.

A cherished autonomy

Well-understood by jihadis, the binding burden of the oath can be sensed through the lens of  militants’ own trajectory. The life story of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM) is a case in point. Even after having moved to Kandahar to work directly with al Qa’ida’s leadership in the late 1990′s, the 9/11 mastermind was still reluctant to formally join. Translation: while he had decided to play on al Qa’ida’s team via close work relationships, he was still refusing to swear allegiance to bin Ladin so as to maintain his operational room for manoeuvre. KSM became a core member only after 9/11 attacks were carried out, following pressures from his peers arguing that the persistent refusal of someone with his pedigree would establish a worrisome precedent for others.

Given how the pledge of allegiance undermines one’s autonomy, it should not come as a surprise that others have shared KSM’ sentiments by postponing the bay’a as long as they could or simply rejected it.

Before bin Ladin formally declared Mulla Muhammad Umar as his direct leader, the Saudi and his entourage made their best to avoid this option to ensure a complete freedom to their global jihad. Notwithstanding external pressures and an increased tense context, the late amir of al Qa’ida still kept using pretexts to shelve a proposal put forward by Abu’l Walid al Misri, a respected senior Egyptian mujahid, designed to improve his relationship with the Afghan Taliban leader. Bin Ladin eventually resigned himself to perform the bay’a in late November 1998 but (and this is a big one) only through Abu’l Walid acting as his proxy. The indirect oath would enable bin Ladin to play it both ways according to the circumstances and as a result, despite being virtually tied by his pledge, still retain his independence. And indeed, the following years, bin Ladin continued to by-pass Mulla Umar’s instructions, namely stopping his media campaign and external operations against the US.

Also instructive is Abu Jandal’ story, which outlines another way of keeping one’s room for manoeuvre. The Yemeni, along with some of the group of combatants he came with, vowed allegiance to bin Ladin after a three-day meeting with the al Qa’ida’s leader in Jalalabad in 1997. Except that it was not an integral but a conditional one. Hence, while Abu Jandal had accepted bin Ladin as his leader in Afghanistan, the deal was that he will not take his orders from the Saudi should he be in another battlefield. Later in 1998, the then bin Ladin’s bodyguard decided that the time has come and eventually pledged an unconditional oath, thereby making him a core member of al Qa’ida.

Muhammad al Owhali’s interrogation provides a further insightful glimpse into the meaning of the bay’a in terms of command and control, as well as the wariness it provokes among some. The 1998 East Africa bombing operative told his FBI interrogators that his refusal to formally join al Qa’ida, despite having been urged to do so, was linked to his fear that, once a core member, he might end up working in non-military activities while having a strong desire in armed jihad. His non-membership would thus enable him to accept or refuse a mission assigned to him by al Qa’ida’s leaders/ commanders according to his own will. As put it in his interrogation: « Once you take the bayat you no longer have a choice in what your missions would be. »

Theses various episodes clearly outline the concrete implications of pledging an oath of allegiance  and also explain jihadis’ lack of promptness in giving it. Not everyone is so inclined to reduce his freewill to a vestige…

A resilient structural demarcation

While cooperating at various levels on the ground, al Qa’ida and other Pakistan-based militant groups cannot be lumped altogether. Demarcations between these various organizations may be blurred when their public statements stress on unity within their community or when their propaganda material feature joint actions on the ground. But at the end of the day, that doesn’t mean there is no distinction to draw.

There is acutally a red line not to cross lying in command and control issues. In this regard, al Qa’ida gets quite cranky when others try to lure its core member into their fold. Obviously, these internal issues will not come out publicly. Regarding the al Qa’ida/Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) nexus, there is no dispute about the reality of their close links in the Waziristan’s mountains. In the meantime, that doesn’t translate into common membership and organizational command.

In a letter addressed to the amir of the TTP Hakimullah Mahsud in early December 2010, high-ranking al Qa’ida’s figures Abu Yahya al Libi and Atiyyatullah strongly warn the Pakistani leader to stay away from Badr Mansur, a Pakistani al Qa’ida’s commander, arguing that Mansur  is « one of the soldiers of the Qa’idat al-Jihad Organization who swore allegiance to Shaykh Usamah ». The two Libyans actually urge Hakimullah not to try this with any of al Qa’ida’s member, stating that if that might happen, it would be with the specific blessing of his leadership. In a nutshell: do not by-pass us when trying to tap one fellow of our ranks. One and the same you said?

As an aside, reading this warning was kind of ironic to me. In French we say « L’hôpital qui se fout de la charité » (translation: « The pot calling the kettle black »). The reason behind my brief digression here is to remind that this is the exact same kind of approach espoused by al Qa’ida.

Throughout its history, the organization has been keen to use and contract out external figures and groups which could serve its interests. As well-put it by former FBI agent Ali Soufan in his book The Back Banners: « At the same time, bin Laden still tried to use non–al-Qaeda groups to further his aims. (…) While bin Laden understood why other groups, wary of al-Qaeda poaching their members, distanced themselves from him, he still wanted to have a connection with them. » Leah Farrall, a former Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police, labels this proclivity to push relentlessly others to join under its umbrella, a « predatory approach ».

For instance, Ahmad al Almani, the suicide-bomber of the 1998 Dar-es-Salaam bombing, didn’t come from al Qa’ida’s core ranks but from al Gama’a al Islamiyyah’s, an Egyptian armed group. Bin Ladin’s aides then tapped the Egyptian explosives specialist for its first major external operation against US interests, in spite of al Gama’a’s stance on how al Almani should be used for the forthcoming attack.

Back to the demarcation issue, I would add that the same as in Pakistan’s tribal areas does apply to whatever areas core operatives are involved in. For example, most of the al Qa’ida’s team operating in and around Somalia colluded with al Shabab movement while retaining their organizational independence. In his book Al Harb ala al Islam (War against Islam), Fadil Harun, a top figure of the African team, puts a strong emphasis on his loyalty to al Qa’ida’s core direction, meaning that cooperation with Somali fighters didn’t equal obeying its amirship. The embedding with local insurgents in a distant location would thus not prevent core members to keep seeking guidance and orders from the leadership. This is the reason why even after having being charged with the security matters for al Shabab, Harun made very clear that his new responsibilities should not be taken as a new membership.

Leaving al Qa’ida

Given how binding the bay’a is, leaving the group as a sworn member proves to be more difficult than for a random trainee. Many volunteers schooled at al Qa’ida’s camps in Afghanistan left and did not return after because they were simply not bound to follow the organisation’s orders. This is a whole different story for those who were trained and performed a vow of allegiance. Having done so, leaving would only be allowed if a legitimate reason is given. If not, they would then be considered as sinners, which is a pretty good way of reinforcing stability within the ranks.

Mustafa Abu’l Yazid evoked this point in his 2009 al Jazira interview, in which the late al Qa’ida’s leader for Afghanistan stated that his organization views itself as « a group from the groups of jihad. We are not caliphate group which claim that those who leave us leave fold of islam. » Given the absence of takfir (excommunication) on those wanting to leave, which doesn’t imply the absence of pressures to stay, I’m highly suspicious of allegations about al Qa’ida killing would-be quitters.

Abu Jandal’s account could be once again used as an illustration of al Qa’ida’s attitude towards core attrition. The Yemeni bodyguard returned to Yemen in 2000 after having faced a myriad of issues and disillusions related to his life with al Qa’ida in Afghanistan. Obviously, the organization  leadership did not welcome the departure of one of their own and tried to prevent it, notably through Abu Muhammad al Misri who told him: « If you think by leaving Afghanistan they [the Americans] will leave you alone, you are wrong. This is a war. Either we will win or die. There is no place for turning back. » (The Black Banners)

Al Qa’ida dissuasions did not stopped Abu Jandal, who left because of personal considerations (family matters, etc) but also because of some decisions made by his leaders. Among other things, he bemoaned bin Ladin’s bay’a to Mulla Umar which he (inaccurately) viewed as the end of al Qa’ida’s original goals and grew tired of disputes involving the Egyptian entourage of bin Ladin. Abu Jandal eventually felt disappointed by the turn of events with his superiors and decided to get away from al Qa’ida’s path by returning to his home land.

By the way, if one wants a real harsh way of dealing with quitters, Abu’l Walid al Misri’s account on  the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan provides a good one. In his book Salib fi sama’ Qandahar (Cross over the sky of Kandahar), the Egyptian notices that under Tahir Yuldashev’s (Muhammad Tahir Faruq) leadership, Central Asia volunteers were specifically told that once the oath has been made, marking the formal rallying to the group, leaving was not an option and would translate into a death sentence. « Everyone should take a step back before making his decision », Abu’l Walid writes, evoking how this strict rule has been met with harsh criticism from Arab groups, especially al Qa’ida, which used quite nasty words to depict it. This further supports my skepticism about stories dealing with al Qa’ida allegedly killing its members on the brink of quitting.


It goes without saying that the great variety of issues surrounding the bay’a as conceptualized in al Qa’ida/jihadi literature cannot be examined extensively through a single blogpost. My point here was simply to highlight how this procedure represents the tool used by al Qa’ida (and others) to gain formal control over recruits/groups and hence defines the essence of al Qa’ida’s (and others)  membership.

Kévin Jackson is a student at Sciences Po in France. His main research interests deal with global jihadism and al-Qa’ida.

GUEST POST: A Brief Look at the History and Power of Anasheed in Jihadist Culture

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 represent at all his employer at the Washington Institute for Near East.

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 Global Jihadism. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email your idea/post to azelin [at] jihadology [dot] net. Pieces should be no longer than 2,000 words please.

Past Guest Posts:

Jonah Ondieki and Jake Zenn, “Gaidi Mtaani,” April 24, 2012.

Joshua Foust, “Jihadi Ideology Is Not As Important As We Think,” January 25, 2011.

Charles Cameron, “Hitting the Blind-Spot- A Review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s “Apocalypse in Islam,” January 24, 2011.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Why Jihadi Ideology Matters,” January 21, 2011.

Joshua Foust, “Some Inchoate Thoughts on Ideology,” January 19, 2011.

Marissa Allison, “Militants Seize Mecca: Juhaymān al ‘Utaybī and the Siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca,” June 9, 2010.

By Behnam Said

At the moment, I am working on my PhD-project on “Militant hymns (anasheed jihadiya) as a part of the Jihadist culture”. This culture I consider to be more effective in terms of propaganda and social cohesion than any ideology alone could be. Young radicals all over the world are listening to the nasheeds extensively – a fact, authorities are getting more and more aware of, as court papers and other sources show. Some of the most interesting findings (which are actually a lot) I will outline in an article to be published in November for Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. Until then Aaron gave me the opportunity to share at least some facts with the readers of “Jihadology” in advance.


Nasheeds, as you all are aware of, are an integral part of almost every Jihadist video production. For example, we see al-Qaeda members in action on the battlefield accompanied by the soundtrack of a smooth a cappella song. On relevant internet forums and websites you will find a bulk of these nasheeds as mp3-files, sometimes even complete collections. There are also plenty of videos with these songs on YouTube. It appears as if no Jihadist can establish his YouTube channel without posting at least a few militant hymns. On Facebook there are also groups publishing militant nasheeds that obtain more than 10,000 “likes”.

Not all of the songs which are popular in the Jihadist scene are new. Many of them are based on songs which were included in the songbooks of the 1980s and in poems of the so called shu´ara ad-da´wa, a branch of poetry which began in the 1950s and ended approximately in the 1980s. For example one of the most popular songs at the moment is “Bi-Jihadina”, which is actually a song by Abu Mazin, a popular Syrian munasheed, who recorded it either in the late 70s or the early 80s. There is also one example of a song used in videos of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) based on a poem by Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), the famous Pakistani poet, that has been translated to Arabic. Some other nasheeds, like the Somali ash-Shabab song “Rayatu t-Tauhid” or some AQAP songs, are contemporary.

The fascination of these songs is described by Samir Khan, the former editor of Inspire, in an article for Inspire:

I remember when I traveled from San´a, for what seemed like years, in a car to one of the bases of the mujahidin, the driver played this one nashīd repeatedly. It was “Sir ya bin Ladin”. I already knew of this nashīd from before, but something had struck me at that moment. The nashīd repeated lines pertaining to fighting the tyrants of the world for the purpose of giving victory to the Islamic nation. But it also reminded the listener that Shaykh Usama bin Ladin is the leader of this global fight. I looked out of the window at the tall mud houses below the beautiful sky and closed my eyes as the wind blew through my hair.”

This personal experience by Khan finds its equivalent in many theoretical descriptions of the desired effects of nasheeds on young people. The oldest sources in this context I found in some nasheed collections from the 1980s. Here it is clearly said, that nasheeds are an instrument to awaken the wish for martyrdom and self sacrifice in the hearts of young Muslims and to give them strength for da´wa and Jihad.

You can categorize nasheeds in accordance with the topics they cover. Often you will find that the poems fit into categories of classical poetry, for example:

  • Mourning songs
  • Praising songs

Other categories are more modern:

  • Prisoners songs
  • Songs regarding ongoing political processes (for example the battle for Syria)
  • Palestine songs

But most of the songs I analyzed can be described as “battle songs”. Focusing on war and ones fighting group, which is described as heroic and brave in antipode to the tyrannical and oppressive enemy (taghut). Here I am not sure if such hymns can be described as classical by category, because the language of such songs are very Jihadist.

Legality and Influence

It is also interesting to have a look at the different legal stances towards nasheeds, especially from Salafi and Wahhabi scholars. I was surprised to find most of them skeptical towards nasheeds. They consider them allowed (mubah), but only under strict conditions regarding form (a cappella only) and content (purely Islamic and Jihad-supportive). So I tried to figure out why the Jihadists are making use of nasheeds so extensively even though Salafi and even more Wahhabi scholars underline the importance of limiting listening to nasheeds. The answer, I think, lies in the history of the nasheeds, which I mentioned above. Modern nasheeds have their origin with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its radical branches in the Levant and in Egypt. From here they made their way to the Arabian Peninsula where nasheeds were known at least from the 70s on, but became more popular in the early 90s during the sahwa-period as sources underline. The stance of MB ideologues was always more positive towards music than that of the Wahhabis and Salafis. Nasir ad-Din al-Albani for example criticized articles from the 50s published in the MB magazine which called for “Islamic music”, which he called as absurd as “Islamic Communism”. So the addiction of Jihadis to nasheeds reflects the influence of the MB on the militant movement. The only clear influence on nasheeds by the Salafis/Wahhabis is the Jihadist adoption of the strict prohibition of any music instruments, except the use of hand drums in some cases.

The Jihadist culture thus is – like the movement itself – a merging of MB and Salafi/Wahhabi ideology. But in this case the MB influence is absolutely overwhelming and it shows that the culture of the MB and its militant branches is more crucial for the Jihadis than some might assume.

I hope that I hereby provided you some input for discussions about the history of Jihadism and its culture as well as about the relevance of this culture.

Behnam Said has studied Islamic Science, Political Science, and History in Hamburg, Germany. His main fields of interest are the relation of Sunna and Shia, history and culture of modern Afghanistan, and political and militant Islamism.  Beside his current job as an intelligence analyst he is doing his PhD at the University of Jena on the topic of militant nasheeds. A more in depth version of this post will be published in a forthcoming issue of the academic journal “Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.”


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