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Beginning on January 8, 2011

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GUEST POST: Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don’t: The Gordian Knot of Europe’s Jihadi Homecoming

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.

Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don’t: The Gordian Knot of Europe’s Jihadi Homecoming

By Zach Goldberg

Introduction

The homecoming of Europe’s jihadi volunteers (or émigrés) from Syria remains an enduring source of public disquiet. That battle-hardened and radicalized Muslim-European passport holders would return to leverage acquired “skills” at home is a specter haunting law enforcement across the continent. A recent discovery by French police of some 1000+ grams of explosives, nails and bolts in the apartment of a recently repatriated Jihadi émigré, did little to assuage such concerns.

Understandably, many European governments are throwing down the gauntlet on returning and hopeful émigrés, as well as their facilitators. Britain’s head of counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, for instance, has threatened to deal “robustly” with any such individuals, threatening sentences of life-imprisonment and/or revoking their citizenships. Other countries have followed suit. In October, Holland established a legal precedent when it convicted and sentenced a would-be 22 year old émigré–publicly identified as ‘Omar H’–to a year in prison on charges of planning “arson or explosions” and adhering to “Jihadist ideas.” And most recently, in March, a French court slapped prison sentences ranging from 2-5 years on three Muslim citizens—previously arrested trying to board a plane for Turkey—for “criminal association with the intent to commit terrorist acts.”

On the face of it, the crackdown is common sense: better to take prospective ‘ticking time-bombs’ off the street than leave tragedy to chance. Unfortunately, the infusion of global jihadis into a European prison system teeming with Muslims may create medium to longer-term issues.

‘Prison Emirates’: Appraising the Problem

Prior to his 4-month jail sentence for car theft, an 18-year old French-Algerian Khalid Kelkal did not “know how to write and read Arabic.” Once behind bars, Khalid affirmed to himself: “I must not waste my time. There was a Muslim Brother with us…I learned Arabic fast.” Khalid quickly found his niche among the “tight-knit group” of Muslim cellmates. It was like he experienced a “great opening of the spirit.”

In 1995 that charm revealed its true colors when Khalid was convicted both for the murder of a moderate Muslim cleric as well as the attempted bombing of a high-speed rail link between Paris and Lyon.

The extent of prisoner radicalization in Europe is certainly debatable. Like any other terrorism related issue, the discourse has its share of alarmists and skeptics. But regardless of one’s stance, it’s important not to equate radicalism with terrorism; the two aren’t invariably synonymous. Radicalism is certainly a sine qua non for terrorism—yet it need not express itself as such. Beliefs don’t always manifest themselves through acts of terrorism.

Thus, assessing the scope of prisoner radicalization is a muddy undertaking. One can very well ‘radicalize’ in prison and—though he/she may periodically contribute to dubious Islamic ‘charities’– go on to live a virtually ‘non-violent’ lifestyle. Moreover, as was the case of Muslim-convert and failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid, one can also have his/her initial religious exposure in prison and only after (perhaps even years later) gravitate towards the realm of extremism.

That said, Islam—particularly its extremist iteration—is a growing fixture in many European prisons. In the UK, despite constituting just 4.7% of the population, Muslim inmates have doubled to nearly 12,000 in the past decade and now represent 14% of the custodial population. The situation in France, where that figure is estimated to range between a whopping 70-80%, is even worse. This phenomenon is, to varying degrees, the rule rather than the exception throughout much of Europe (see chart below). And considering that Islam has become “the fastest growing religion among prisoners in Europe,” non-Muslims going in may be Muslims going out.

The etiology of the above is complicated and cannot be thoroughly articulated in brief. Suffice it to say that Europe’s Muslim youth are beset by a host of social, cultural, and economic barriers that render lives of crime a seductive alternative. Unable to obtain meaning or purpose in their lives, they chase a transient, impish fix (i.e. drugs, theft, gangs) to numb the pain. When confined to a cell, however, that emptiness has nowhere to hide. With plenty of time to brood over their ontological vacuums, they long for a way to fill it. And Islam, with the brotherly endearment and communal belonging it bestows, is a potent filler.

In and of itself, the preponderance of Islamic embrace in prisons is innocuous—if not beneficent. In fact, one studyof Muslim converts in British penitentiaries found that Islamic faith provides inmates “with a moral framework from which to rebuild their lives,” while instilling a self-imposed discipline that, in turn, “gives prison authorities a convenient force in helping them maintain order.” However, given the hermeneutical nescience of these religious neophytes (as in the case above), the risk they’ll fall under the sway of pseudo-‘Sheikhs’ and those proselytizing a more radical Islamic persuasion, cannot be ignored.

Admittedly, the overwhelming majority of Muslim inmates won’t see their beliefs consummate through acts of terrorism. However, the adoption of radical creed, at a minimum, nurtures that eventuality. And the more that imbibe ideological chauvinism, the more room the violent ‘minority’ has to grow. As argued below, the increasing ingress of global jihadi veterans into the prison system could play a significant role in mediating such a trend.

Empirical Cases

Among the more notable prison-jihadi examples is Muktar Ibrahim, the leader of the July 21st London Bomb plot who adopted extreme Islamism while in prison for gang related violence in the 1990s. In Spain, prison radicalization proved integral to the hatching of the 2004 Madrid train bombings by a “loosely affiliated cluster of childhood friends, neighborhood home-boys, siblings, cousins, petty criminals, drug dealers, and former cell-mates.” And in France, where Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old French-Algerian savagely gunned down a total of 7 people (including 3 Jewish school children) in the cities of Montauban and Toulouse in 2012. Merah—who, according to his friends,  “never even went to mosque”—served two short prison terms for robbery in 2005 and 2007-08. It was then, many claimed, that he made his induction to radical Islam.

Beyond serving as a fertile indoctrinatory venue, prisons can also be apt recruiting grounds. For instance, it was while serving time for credit card fraud in a Spanish prison that Mohamed Achraf, the convicted mastermind of a 2004 plot to blow up the country’s National court, recruited his co-conspirators. Similarly, it was in California’s New Folsom Prison that convicted Muslim convert, Kevin James, co-opted several radicalized inmates in an elaborate–ultimately disrupted–scheme to attack military sites, synagogues, and other targets across Los Angeles.

Admittedly, though the precise empirical data is lacking, the lion’s share of prisoner-turned-terrorist cases are believed to reside in the cramped, squalid and understaffed prisons of the Muslim world (i.e. Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, etc.).  However, as evidenced by the legions of ex-convicts among the European-Muslims fighting in Syria today, the phenomenon in Europe is on the upswing. And, quite paradoxically, the more Syria-related incarcerations are dispensed in Europe, the greater this problem is likely to become.

As one British study posits with respect to the efficacy of radicalization counter-measures (i.e. segregation/isolation of high risk inmates): “It seems likely that, as the number of convicted and remanded violent jihadist prisoners in Britain grows, the resources available to the authorities to manage this difficult prisoner population will become increasingly stretched.”

Europe’s Catch 22

As such, Europe has quite the catch-22 on its hands. In sending global jihadis to jail it’s, in effect, sending ‘rock stars;’ men who will be revered by their fellow inmates for not just talking the talk, but having the temerity to ‘walk the walk’.

Of course, there will be plenty of time for ‘story-telling.’ And through tales of angels descending from the heavens to the battlefield and divinely propelled victories, the imprisoned jihadi-veterans will make quite the impression on their vulnerable peers; sowing the seeds of zealotry as they go.

No less consequential is the bridling resentment both jailed jihadi-émigrés and attemptees are likely to harbor towards their captors; sentiment they may act on upon release. That the West not only sits on its hands while thousands of Muslim innocents are slaughtered in Syria, but also has the gall to penalize those succoring the helpless is not lost on these fettered ‘humanitarians.’

The imprisonment of convicted Jihadi recruiters and ‘travel agents’ is also fraught with risk. Rather than disrupt their efforts, Muslim abounding prisons may fuel them; affording recruiters an intimate and susceptible pool of potential prospects. With many Muslim delinquents only serving sentences of months to a few years, it’s not implausible that some will head to Syria or other jihadi theatres upon their release. For example, in one study of Swedish fighters it was revealed that at least “8 out of 18 subjects had criminal records.”

Counting ‘Em Up

Discourse on the secondary and indirect externalities of the West’s jihadi émigré posture has been virtually non-existent. Being that an upsurge of jihadis within European prison population could be just as pernicious as those lurking in the public midst, this lacuna needs to be filled.

To jump-start the process I’ve taken inventory of all reported Syrian Jihad (emphasis on Syrian) related arrests and convictions across major European and Western countries since January 2012. This includes: a) those suspected of having fought among the ranks of jihadi groups (i.e. JN, ISIS, Ahrar al-Sham) who were subsequently arrested upon return to Europe; b) those arrested trying to join such groups (i.e. caught on the Turkish border, at the airport) c) Syrian jihadi recruiters and facilitators (i.e. including those bankrolling such ancillary activities); d) those with ties to Syrian jihadi groups (i.e. through direct correspondence or having previously been active within their ranks) who were arrested for domestic jihadi activities (i.e. fundraising, acts of terrorism, incitement)

Before presenting the data, some qualifications are in order. Firstly, the tally was compiled exclusively through open-source information. This poses several significant limitations. One is the potential existence of arrests/convictions not covered or reported by the media: There’s simply no way to rule out this possibility.

Another concerns the frequent non-descriptness of media coverage; crucial information is, at times, either unknown or undisclosed. For example, one source reports on the trial of 19 Belgians charged with financing and recruiting a contingent of Muslim-nationals to join “armed terrorist groups in Syria and Somalia.” It further mentions an undisclosed number of the 19 who “went to fight along with the so-called ‘al-Shahab Movement’ in Somalia.” As one could imagine, sorting out those relevant to Syria from those of other Jihadi theatres is problematic. In cross checking alternate sources I was able to learn that 3 of the 19 individuals were recently extradited back to Belgium from Kenya for their al-Shabaab affiliations. Still, that leaves 16 individuals whose backgrounds are indeterminable. Sans knowing their identities, I cannot discount the possibility that some were those arrested in cases previously accounted for in my survey.

Therefore, to avoid ‘double-counting’, I’ve designated this group as ‘?/16’; meaning an unknown number among them are Syria-related. This same design was applied to other instances as well. Kosovo, for example, arrested 6 individuals on domestic terrorism charges. The source highlights that “some of them were affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra. (JN) ” Here again, how many were affiliated with JN is impossible to deduce, and is thus listed as ‘?/6’on the chart.

The survey also includes those arrested and ultimately released (at times placed under follow-up surveillance) or those tried and acquitted of charges. Because our focus is limited to those convicted/incarcerated and those whose cases are likely to conclude like so, I added a ‘Net Total’ column which deducts the individuals no longer under sanction. Still, as assiduous as I was in cross-checking my data, I can’t eliminate the possibility that the ‘Net-Total’ may include those who’ve since been exonerated; though I’m convinced any such aberrations would be few in number.

Finally, some individuals were charged with both fighting among terrorist groups in Syria as well as recruitment/support activities upon their return to Europe. Accordingly, this cohort is enumerated normally under the ‘Support Efforts’ column while represented as ‘+(x)’ in the ‘Fought’ column. To illustrate, France arrested a total of 5 charged with fighting in Syria + (4-5) who fought in Syria but were also charged with recruiting: thus, this computation is denoted below as 5+ (4-5).

Results

Syrian-Jihadi Related Arrests (2012-2014)
Fought Support/

Recruitment Efforts

Attemptees Domestic Activities Total Arrests Released/Acquitted/KIA Net Total % Muslims in Prison Population
Albania+Bosnia+Kosovo[1] 1 + (?/6) 7 6 14 14 ——-
Australia[2] 4 1 5 5 Unknown
Belgium[3] 6 +(1) <-(1)23+?/16 8 37+ (?/16) 1 36+(?/16) 45%
France[4] 5 +(4-5) <-(4-5)22 22+(?/12) 12 (?/12) 66 5 61 70%
Germany[5] 3 1 4 4 Unknown
Italy[6] 8 1 9 1 8 35% (Including 181 Imams/Spiritual leaders)
Netherlands[7] 3 3 1 2 20% (2008)
Norway[8] 1 1 1 Unknown
Spain[9] 1 13 14 14 10.4% (2008)
United Kingdom[10] 9 +(1) <-(1) 13 21 8 (?) 51 6 45 14%
Russia[11] 3 3 3 Unknown
Totals 34-35+(?/6) 91+(?/16) 55 27 207+(?/16) 15 193+(?/16)

Implications

As shown, Europe+Australia has made a net total of 193-209 arrests; 34-41 of which were ex-fighters, 91-105 recruiters/supporters, 55 migratory attemptees, and 27 charged for domestic terrorism activities. I must note that had I broadened my search to include those arrested for ties with Global Jihadi organizations of other theatres (i.e. AQIM, al-Shaabab, etc.) the numbers would be indubitably greater (for example, a cursory probe I conducted turned up least 28 such individuals).

Naturally, the majority of those arrested emanate from a bloc of countries (UK, France, Belgium) putatively at the forefront of Western émigré activity. Incidentally, this trio also features some of the more Muslim populated prison systems in Europe.

Many experts profess a correlation between “potential for radicalization and the degree to which prisons are safe and orderly.” When penitentiaries are adequately staffed, overcrowding is limited, and intramural education opportunities are readily available, the “space for sub-cultures and conflicts between inmates is” minimized and prisoners remain “mere prisoners, not rebels with a cause.” In addition to sustaining order, these elements also “make it easier for authorities to collect intelligence and pick up on emerging signs of radicalization.”

While anecdotal, evidence from France, Spain and the UK suggests that: “‘radicalisers’ do take advantage of poorly run and overcrowded prisons and that Muslim prison gangs tend to form in environments in which resources are scarce, ethnic and religious conflicts are rife and the prison management can no longer ensure the safety of inmates.”

Ominously, the prisons in the countries leading the ‘arrest board’ all suffer from over-crowding, staff-shortages and alas, increasing conversion or reversion into radical Islamism. According to one British Ministry of Justice audit: “ Conditions in the prison made participation in Islamic practices the most available option for those looking for belonging, meaning, ‘brotherhood,’ trust and friendship.”

As the Syrian Civil War drags on, European prison systems will likely to sustain indefinite influxes of jihadi inmates. This is not to argue that the continued crackdown and incarceration of such individuals is ill advised. Rather, it’s to highlight the unavoidable catch-22 of the status quo. If Europe expects to maintain its ‘robust’ zero-tolerance policy vis-à-vis global jihadi activities, it mustn’t neglect the risks inherent in doing so. Specifically, should it fail to shore up the deficiencies of its penal system, it may unintentionally create more jihadis than it takes off the street.

Zach Goldberg is an independent researcher and  runs the blog 21st Century Jihad, which you can find here: http://www.21stcenturyjihad.com/

______________

Sources:

[1]Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/albania-arrests-seven-suspected-al-qaeda-recruiters

http://www.terrorisminfo.org.il/Data/articles/Art_20616/E_208_13_409304481.pdf

http://www.tol.org/client/article/24050-kosovo-holds-suspected-islamists-on-terrorism-charges-azerbaijan-jails-another-journalist.html

[2]Australia:

http://www.terrorisminfo.org.il/Data/articles/Art_20616/E_208_13_409304481.pdf

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/ramraid-muslim-radicals-police-fear-crimes-are-funding-syrian-war-fighters/story-fni0cx12-1226775455240

[3]Belgium:

http://www.esisc.org/upload/publications/briefings/belgiumsyria-new-reports confirm-increasing-involvement-of-belgian-jihadists-in-syria/Briefing%20-%20Belgium-Syria%20-%20Jihadists.pdf

http://pietervanostaeyen.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/belgian-jihadis-in-syria-an-update/

http://www.icct.nl/download/file/ICCT-Bakker-Paulussen-Entenmann-Dealing-With-European-Foreign-Fighters-in-Syria.pdf

http://www.jamestown.org/uploads/media/TM_011_Issue19.pdf

http://www.kuna.net.kw/ArticlePrintPage.aspx?id=2363211&language=en

http://sana.sy/eng/22/2014/03/10/532379.htm

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/world/middleeast/worries-mount-as-syria-lures-wests-muslims.html

http://www.deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.english/Antwerp/131213_Jejoen_free

http://latestnewssyria.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/latest-news-belgian-salafists-fighting-in-syria/

[4]France:

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/players-arrest-spotlights-sports-as-a-tool-of-jihadist-recruitment.aspx?pageID=238&nID=32192&NewsCatID=364

http://www.leparisien.fr/faits-divers/cellule-de-cannes-torcy-trois-nouvelles-arrestations-de-terroristes-presumes-15-10-2013-3227205.php

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/25/us-france-islamists-idUSBRE95O11920130625

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2014/03/14/France-detains-seven-suspected-of-sending-jihadists-to-Syria/UPI-20291394818147/

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303722104579238542737904868

http://mobile.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSBRE9AE13I20131115

http://www.leparisien.fr/espace-premium/actu/des-pompes-funebres-au-jihad-en-syrie-27-11-2013-3353159.php

https://jihadology.net/2014/02/25/guest-post-hide-these-jihadists-that-i-cant-see-the-french-volunteers-in-syria/

http://pamelageller.com/2013/09/robbing-for-jihad-french-muslims-arrested-in-restaurant-heist-to-travel-to-syria-to-join-jihad.html/

http://www.china.org.cn/world/Off_the_Wire/2014-03/11/content_31742207.htm

http://news.yahoo.com/spain-morocco-arrest-seven-jihadist-cell-bust-170610765.html

http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/idINDEEA1B0BS20140212?irpc=932

http://www.leparisien.fr/espace-premium/actu/des-pompes-funebres-au-jihad-en-syrie-27-11-2013-3353159.php

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/03/26/french-authorities-find-explosives-in-france-after-arrest-former-jihadist-in/

[5]Germany

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/03/14/german-prosecutors-hold-man-accused-training-fighting-for-hardline-islamic/

http://www.dw.de/german-authorities-arrest-three-people-for-alleged-ties-to-syrian-radical-group/a-17533472

[6]Italy

http://www.icct.nl/download/file/ICCT-Bakker-Paulussen-Entenmann-Dealing-With-European-Foreign-Fighters-in-Syria.pdf

http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/3832/italy-jihadists

http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-jihadism-in-italy-rise-in-homegrown-radicals

[7]Netherlands

http://www.pipelinenews.org/2013/feb/11/SPECIAL-REPORT-The-Jihadist-Threat-From-Syria-Africa.html

http://www.icct.nl/download/file/ICCT-Bakker-Paulussen-Entenmann-Dealing-With-European-Foreign-Fighters-in-Syria.pdf

[8]Norway

http://www.thelocal.no/20140214/norway-jihadi-arrested-for-terror-on-return-from-syria

[9]Spain

http://www.propublica.org/article/syrias-jihadi-migration-emerges-as-top-terror-threat-in-europe-beyond

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/nowsyrialatestnews/spain-arrests-suspected-leader-who-sent-jihadists-to-syria

http://www.jamestown.org/uploads/media/TM_011_Issue19.pdf

http://news.yahoo.com/spain-morocco-arrest-seven-jihadist-cell-bust-170610765.html

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/05/world/europe/spain-terror-arrest/

[10]United Kingdom

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/10659904/Former-Guantanamo-detainee-Moazzam-Begg-one-of-four-arrested-on-suspicion-of-terrorism.html

http://www.thirdsector.net/Finance/article/1284050/Ninth-man-arrested-Syria-charity-fraud-investigation/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9615228/NHS-doctor-accused-of-being-part-of-British-jihadi-group-in-Syria.html

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24163282

http://www.religiousfreedomcoalition.org/2013/10/15/four-islamic-terrorists-arrested-in-foiled-london-attack/

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303722104579238542737904868

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/10585301/Man-21-arrested-at-Stansted-Airport-on-suspicion-of-terror-offences.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/9793407/Four-men-arrested-under-terror-laws-after-kidnap-of-journalist.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2544939/British-student-arrested-Heathrow-16-000-hidden-knickers-Syrian-fighters.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2544734/Two-British-girls-17-inspired-jihad-way-Syria-arrested-Heathrow-terrorist-offences.html

http://www.thenation.org.uk/200314/mainnews.aspx

[11]Russia

http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINDEE9AD03U20131114

GUEST POST: Ayman al-Zawahiri on Jihadist Infighting and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

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.

Ayman al-Zawahiri on Jihadist Infighting and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

On April 18, a jihadist social media user tweeted links to two parts of an Al-Sahab Establishment for Media Production interview with al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri. Entitled “Reality Between Pain and Hope,” the interview’s first part was 54 minutes and 15 seconds, while the second part was 28 minutes and 45 seconds. Since the interview was first posted by a social media user rather than Al-Sahab, this appears to be a leak, similar to the recent leak of an unpublished Adam Gadahn video criticizing the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) following the death of al-Qaeda emissary Abu Khalid al-Suri.

Given analysts’ focus on recent jihadist infighting in Syria, it is worth noting Zawahiri’s comments on the matter, and on ISIS more broadly. ISIS was, of course, famously expelled from al-Qaeda in a pronouncement that the jihadist group issued in early February.

Zawahiri on Jihadist Infighting

In the interview, Zawahiri is asked about infighting among jihadist groups in Syria. His response is thunderous yet non-specific about which individuals or factions are responsible for the problems. Zawahiri blames the infighting on “the control of whims, ignorance, and injustice over some people,” and further suggests that jihadist factions in Syria may have been infiltrated, perhaps by intelligence services or else just by “misguided advice” and “bad incitement among the mujahedin.”

Asked about al-Qaeda’s efforts to end the infighting, Zawahiri renews the organization’s demands for addressing these disputes. At the time ISIS was expelled from al-Qaeda, they had been ordered to undergo arbitration with other mujahedin factions. While paying lip service to the arbitration process, ISIS in fact refused to comply. Zawahiri renews his calls for arbitration, stating that jihadists should refer their dispute to an independent sharia commission capable of obliging the conflicting factions to submit to its rulings.

Zawahiri implies that there could be severe consequences for factions who refuse to submit to arbitration. He says that all mujahedin and supporters of jihad should “take a stance of promoting virtue and preventing vice against all those who delay the work of this commission, ignore responding to it, or do not abide by its decisions.” In referring to the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, Zawahiri makes clear that he is speaking of drastic measures: the withdrawal of legitimacy and financial and moral support from factions who fail to submit to arbitration. “Stripping off the legitimacy is a very serious thing,” Zawahiri says. He points to Algeria, where “the legitimacy was revoked from the militant Islamic group”: Zawahiri is referring to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which al-Qaeda played a role in helping the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) splinter group to supplant. After GIA’s legitimacy was stripped from it, Zawahiri says, “it vanished.”

Though Zawahiri’s words are clearly intended as a warning to ISIS, he denies that he is speaking of them. “I do not address here an organization in itself or a group in particular,” Zawahiri says. Instead, he claims that his statement is a general one meant for all the mujahedin and their supporters. Indeed, he includes himself among the emirs whose commands should not be followed if their orders transgress God’s dictates. “Neither al-Zawahiri nor al-Jawlani [Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader] nor al-Baghdadi [ISIS’s leader] will protect you from God’s punishment if you wage aggression against your mujahedin brothers,” Zawahiri says.

Zawahiri says that jihadists joined the fight in Syria to “make the word of God supreme and to make the word of the infidels humiliated,” and thus they should be wary of being used by commanders “in their disputes over powers, ranks, positions, or gains.”

Zawahiri’s comments on jihadist infighting point to possible approaches al-Qaeda may adopt in dealing with ISIS, including the potential for a strategy of delegitimizing its leadership and drying up its funding streams. There is evidence to suggest that al-Qaeda has already been following this approach, but Zawahiri’s language and prioritization of arbitration and cohesion among the mujahedin also leaves open the possibility of a cooperative relationship or reconciliation with ISIS emerging. (Since a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering is occurring, my analysis in this piece doesn’t attempt to determine probabilities, but instead to understand the thrust of Zawahiri’s message.)

On the Split with ISIS

The interviewer asks Zawahiri about the justifications for al-Qaeda’s expulsion of ISIS. Zawahiri articulates two rationales. First, he notes that al-Qaeda is focused on the U.S. and its allies, while being cautious to shed Muslim blood. “We avoid the operations where impermissible blood may be shed in the markets, mosques, and residential areas and even among the jihadist groups,” Zawahiri says. He notes that the purpose behind al-Qaeda’s issuance of a general guidance for jihadist action was to unify the ummah, and taking Muslim blood can thwart that goal. “It is not possible to unify the ummah if we have the image of a tyrant and a usurper of its rights,” Zawahiri says, thus implying that this is ISIS’s image.

Zawahiri’s second rationale for expelling ISIS is that it failed to abide “by the fundamentals of teamwork.” Asked to explain this point, Zawahiri points to ISIS’s declaration of states without getting permission in advance and its failure to submit to the arbitration process.

Zawahiri emphasizes the need for al-Qaeda to maintain its image in order to propagate its message, describing the jihadist group as “a message before it is an organization.” Noting that al-Qaeda’s goal is to serve as a role model for the ummah, Zawahiri warns that the ummah won’t trust them if it “finds that we fight over spoils of war before achieving empowerment.” Further, al-Qaeda’s enemies will exploit such failures. As evidence of this, Zawahiri refers to Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah’s statement “in which he justifies fighting to support the criminal regime in the Levant” on the basis that Nasrallah “seeks to protect the people in the Levant against the crimes of the takfiris.”

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. The author or volume editor of thirteen books and monographs, he holds a Ph.D. in world politics from the Catholic University of America and a J.D. from the New York University School of Law.

Hizballah Cavalcade: Asa’ib al-Muqawama al-Bahrainia: An Emerging Militant Group in Bahrain?

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

Asa’ib al-Muqawama al-Bahrainia: An Emerging Militant Group in Bahrain?

By Phillip Smyth

Asaib al-Muqawama al-Bahraini

Figure 1: Asa’ib al-Muqawama al-Bahrainia’s logo.

Asa’ib al-Muqawama al-Bahrainia (The League of Bahraini Resistance or AMB) was first established and marketed as an independent militant organization on February 22, 2014. The group’s founding announcement claimed that the time had become ripe for armed opposition against Bahrain’s ruling monarchy due to the government’s actions. As with other Bahraini militant groups, little is known about AMB’s manpower or armed capabilities.

Regardless, unlike other Bahraini militant organizations, AMB’s founding announcement has found its way onto many different online venues catering to a wide range of readers.[1]

AMB’s statements appear online in bursts. February 22 and February 28, 2014 have been the two dates this organization has placed a series of announcements in public. This pattern is reminiscent of another Bahraini organization, a proto-militant group which went by a similar name, Asa’ib al-Muqawama (The Resistance League). Using Twitter, Asa’ib al-Muqawama released 33 announcements (in both Arabic and English) between April 21 and 22, 2012. Asa’ib al-Muqawama’s threats centered on Bahrain’s controversial Formula One race. One of these statements claimed responsibility for planting three homemade bombs at the race location.  At time, there were also instances of Molotov cocktails being thrown at some (from Team India) affiliated with the race.[2] Additionally, on April 9, 2012, seven Bahraini police were wounded due to an improvised bomb planted in the town of Akr.[3] Albeit, neither of these attacks were linked to Asa’ib al-Muqawama.

After their last tweet on April 22, 2012, Asa’ib al-Muqawama went quiet. This is similar to how AMB went silent after their last February 28, 2014 statement. There is a possibility of a link between AMB and Asa’ib al-Muqawama, considering the groups espouse the same militarism, utilized a similar name, and have released announcements in bursts over two-day periods. In fact, AMB’s official Twitter account also describes itself as “Asa’ib al-Muqawama.” It is possible that AMB developed out of the original Asa’ib al-Muqawama. However, beyond these assumptions, there is little substantiating open-source information to assist in confirming any links.

Asaib al-Muqawama al-Bahraini2

Figure 2: Asa’ib al-Muqawama’s English language Tweet-announcement, declaring they had planted 3 bombs at the Bahrain F1 race.

Asaib al-Muqawama al-Bahraini3

Figure 3: Asa’ib Muqawama’s logo.

Asaib al-Muqawama al-Bahraini4

Figure 4: AMB’s first announcement.

On February 28, 2014 AMB announced the launch of their, “Fist of Righteousness” operation to avenge the death of Ja’afar al-Derazi. Derazi, whose burial occurred the day of the announcement, was a 22 year old anti-government activist. According to opposition and pro-Iran sources, Derazi died due to torture and other forms of maltreatment when he was detained within a government jail cell.[4] In revenge for Derazi’s death, on April 11, 2014, Saraya al-Mukhtar claimed responsibility for an attack targeting Bahraini police. Nevertheless, AMB has not yet claimed any other attacks as part of their “Fist of Righteousness” campaign.

Asaib al-Muqawama al-Bahraini5

Figure 5: AMB’s second announcement from February 28, 2014.

AMB Joins YouTube

AMB’s official YouTube account claimed to release a video introducing the group on February 21, 2014. However, the first publicly accessible copy of the video was uploaded and released on February 22, 2014. In the video, supposed AMB members are shown marching in formation, extending their arms in a Roman salute. Demonstrating their potential roots as militant offshoots of the larger Bahraini protest movement, young balaclava wearing men hold tires in one of their displays. Tires are a regular feature in some protests; often laid across stretches of road, coated in gasoline, and lit on fire.

Furthering religious themes was also a feature of the film. Young marching militants are seen holding Qurans, wearing white (in addition to other colors) burial shrouds symbolizing a willingness to be martyred, and holding flags with “Ya Husayn” (“O Husayn”) written on them. The “Ya Husayn” flags symbolize a Shia-centric theme, recalling Husayn’s martyrdom via beheading, at the pivotal Battle of Karbala.[5] These flags have also made regular appearances during anti-government protests.

The promotional clip also claims to show AMB launching operations against internal security elements (primarily the Bahraini police). Segments of film featuring Molotov throwing youths are a main theme. However, these clips are usually from earlier films recorded by more violent activists associated with the February 14 Youth Coalition. It is possible this footage demonstrates a further link to the February 14 Youth Coalition or it was simply repackaged by AMB to show a broader theme surrounding the “resistance” against the Bahraini government and their forces.

AMB also appears to have a preoccupation with utilizing weapons which can burn their foes. This may be the result of protester use of Molotov cocktails. Utilizing the limited available tools, some Bahraini protesters, particularly younger male militants, have often thrown Molotov cocktails at Bahraini internal security forces. The theme of the Molotov thrown at Bahraini police, particularly their vehicles, was regularly utilized in AMB’s introductory video. However, the focus on using weapons which can kill and injure using fire does not appear to stop with Molotovs. In one part of their video, AMB shows Bahraini police engulfed in a wall of flame, likely caused by a bomb or another incendiary device.

AMB’s Badge

AMB’s logo may also show links to Saraya al-Ashtar (SaM), one of the first publicly established Bahraini militant organizations. Featuring two crossed M16-style rifles within a circle (which could potentially symbolize a pearl, a recognized emblem of Bahrain), the group’s logo mirrors SaM’s official symbol. This logo also included two crossed rifles (albeit, of the Kalashnikov variety) within a circle representing a pearl.

An Asa’ib of Their Own?

When investigating potential links between AMB, Iran, or Iranian-backed proxies, there was some evidence of overlap between AMB & Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH). On March 13, 2014, AMB’s founding statement was circulated on AAH’s extensive network of Facebook pages. This often coincided with claims that AMB was representative of AAH’s spreading brand. Claims of this nature may be an Iranian proxy attempt to demonstrate a substantial link to the Bahraini militant group. Both groups utilize similar language, with AMB describing itself as the “Bahraini Resistance” and AAH calling itself the, “Islamic Resistance in Iraq.”  Still, there is the possibility that AAH could be jumping on an organically constructed (in Bahrain) group while skillfully playing on AMB’s similar name, all in an effort to claim a connection and demonstrate a broader reach. It is important to note that it took AAH nearly a month before pages associated with the group started to carry AMB’s founding statement.

Another potential link includes religious and ideological themes. The AMB’s founding statement mentioned the group was following their taklif. A taklif, or religiously mandated order, was developed and utilized for political and social events by those embracing Iranian Islamic Revolutionary concepts.[6] The mention of a taklif mirrors a similar statement made by fellow Bahraini militant group, Saraya al-Mukhtar, which also mentioned they were picking-up arms against the government due to a taklif.

Asaib al-Muqawama al-Bahraini6

Figure 6: A post promoting the first AMB declaration on an official Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq Facebook page.

Is AMB Dormant?

At the time of this writing, the last statement issued by AMB was released via their Twitter account on February 28. Since that time, AMB has not itself claimed any new attacks, seen related militant groups, protest organizations, or the official Bahraini media, cite any new actions by the group. While little has been heard from this organization since it’s nearly 2 month-long period of silence, AMB’s release of formal statements, broad web-presence (including their YouTube video release), overlap between itself and other Bahraini militant groups, and other attack claims, may indicate AMB is still active.

AMB’s activities may be continuing as members of the organization act as integral elements within other Bahrain militant groups. If there is a true link between the AMB and Asa’ib al-Muqawama, it is possible that following the established model, a new wave of attack-claims could be registered on an entirely new online/social networking apparatus.

Nevertheless, until AMB claims another attack or has an allied organization claim an attack for them, it will be impossible to know what has become of this group

_____________

[1] Note: Numerous Sunni Islamist and Shia Islamist forums, Facebook pages, and Twitter profiles have all spread around AMB’s founding statement.

[2] See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/formulaone/article-2131934/Bahrain-Grand-Prix-2012-Force-India-caught-petrol-bomb-attack.html.

[3] See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-17663642.

[4] See: http://alwefaq.net/cms/2014/02/28/27444/. This post was written by the main Bahraini opposition party, Al-Wefaq. See also: http://www.almanar.com.lb/adetails.php?fromval=2&cid=221&frid=21&seccatid=221&eid=760912. This article originated from Lebanese Hizballah’s Al-Manar TV network

[5] See: http://books.google.com/books?id=Idp6FWByq6oC&pg=PT191&dq=beheaded+Husayn+battle+of+karbala&hl=en&sa=X&ei=37xQU_DtFIWR0QHI_ICQBA&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=beheaded%20Husayn%20battle%20of%20karbala&f=false.

[6] http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/2013/10/hizballah-executing-syrian-prisoners.html. See my writing about the relevance of the Taklif Sharii among Hizballah and allied Iraqi Shia Islamist groups.

New statement from Jabhat al-Nuṣrah: “The Containers From the Explosives Detonated Upon the the Shabīḥah in the Center of the Village of al-Gharzlī in Ḥomṣ”

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Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Jabhat al-Nuṣrah — “The Containers From the Explosives Detonated Upon the the Shabīḥah in the Center of the Village of al-Gharzlī in Ḥomṣ”

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Source: http://justpaste.it/f351

To inquire about a translation for this statement for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

al-Furqān Media presents a new video message from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shām: “He Named You Muslims”

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Source: https://twitter.com/wa3tasimu/status/455425845289426944

To inquire about a translation for this video message for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

New release from Fursān al-Balāgh Media: “Monthly Indexing of the Releases of the Jihādī Media Organizations For the Month of March 2014″

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Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Fursān al-Balāgh Media — “Monthly Indexing of the Releases of the Jihādī Media Organizations For the Month of March 2014″

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Source: http://justpaste.it/fursan-fhrs5

To inquire about a translation for this release for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

al-Manārah al-Bayḍā’ Foundation for Media Production presents a new video message from Jabhat al-Nuṣrah: “Explaining the Military Plan of Action for Jabhat al-Nuṣrah in Ḥamāh”

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Source: https://alfidaa.info/vb/showthread.php?t=97072

To inquire about a translation for this video message for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

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

Translations

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

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