NOTE: For prior parts in The Archivist series you can view an archive of it all here. And for his older series see: Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad.

Stories of the Mujahideen: Women of the Islamic State

By Aymenn al-Tamimi

The previous post in The Archivist series looked at the internally distributed series of documents entitled Qisas al-Mujahideen (‘Stories of the Mujahideen’), which tell stories of particular individuals in the Islamic State (IS). One of the figures covered in these series was Dr. Iman Mustafa al-Bagha, a Syrian female Islamic scholar who has worked in IS’ Diwan al-Iftaa’ wa al-Buhuth (‘Fatwa Issuing and Research Department’) and organization of women’s hisba (Islamic morality enforcement) teams in the various provinces of IS. Her activities were characterized as jihad, with the biography of her emphasizing that she was continuing in this jihad despite the loss of her son Abu al-Hassan al-Dimashqi.

This post looks further at the women covered in Qisas al-Mujahideen. These particular stories point to roles beyond hisba and Islamic jurisprudence. Indeed, IS even appears to allow for an actual military role for women, as mention is made of a female suicide bomber who targeted a Kurdish YPG base in the Kobani area (in IS discourse: Ayn al-Islam). Female suicide bombers are not publicised in IS’ official propaganda, where certain suicide bombing operations are publicised with the name of the suicide bomber in the form of a kunya and sometimes a photo of the bomber. Perhaps one reason female suicide bombers are not publicised is that it is not possible, by IS standards on women’s modesty, to show their faces in the propaganda.

In the context of military roles, a particular case of interest here is that of Umm Fatima al-Rusiya, who is said to have participated in an operation in Grozny after giving her allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The operation in question was actually claimed by the Caucasus Emirate. However, the operation also came at a time when North Caucasian jihadis and leaders began pledging allegiance to Baghdadi and going public with their pledges, thereby defecting from the Caucasus Emirate. Some, it seems, may have kept their pledges and/or IS sympathies private for a time in the hope that the Caucasus Emirate’s overall leader at the time, who was subsequently killed in April 2015, would declare allegiance to IS. Ultimately he did not do so.

Also of note in the internal documents here is the role women can play in providing food for fighters. Indeed, every IS brigade (liwa) is supposed to have a team of cooks and kitchen staff that constitute the matbakh (‘kitchen’) for the IS brigade. For a sample food schedule for an IS battalion (katiba, which on the basis of documentary evidence appears to be a subordinate part of a liwa), see Specimen 18U in my archives of IS documents.

Unsupported by the evidence, in contrast, is any notion of ‘sex jihad’ (jihad al-nikah). Some have attempted to draw attention to internal IS documents under the title of aqd nikah as proof of institutionalised ‘sex jihad’. In fact, these documents are no more than simple marriage contracts.

Below are the documents with translation, including parenthetical notes in square brackets for explanation of some terms.

Umm Khalid al-Wahjani (released under the series as part of Akhbar al-Khilafa)

thearchivistwomeninis

Among the women who have been an example for the granddaughters of al-Khansa’: a mother of three martyrs- by God’s permission- from the girls and four martyrs from the boys.

Umm Khalid Khansa’ is from the Arab Maghreb, and migrated along with her family fleeing obedience to the taghut [idolatrous tyranny/tyrant] and the decay that Maghrebi society had attained at the hand of its tawagheet from the kings and heads of the Arab states, which have wiped out the identity of the Arab Muslims and made them forget their religion, noble language, and acts of worship and customs of their conquering ancestors.

Her first husband was killed in the battle of the conquest of Mennagh military airport north of Aleppo as he was in the first ranks, so we reckon him as a martyr with God and God is his reckoner.

As for her three daughters, two of them were killed in Crusader coalition bombing on the Aisha Umm al-Mu’mineen centre to teach the Qur’an in Wilayat al-Kheir. As for the third, she carried out a martyrdom operation in a base for the YPG party apostates in Ayn al-Islam.

Three of her sons were killed in blessed martyrdom operations, the first of whom was Abu Mu’adh who blew up a rigged vehicle in a gathering of the Rafidite [derogatory for Shi’i] Hashd Sha’abi in Baiji. Following him was his brother Abu Talha and with him a group of soldiers of the Dawla carrying out an inghimasi [commando] raid into the ranks of the Rafidites after the martyrdom operation, during which the mujahideen managed to kill dozens of the Rafidites.

As for their third brother Abu Muslim, he drove a truck rigged with explosives with which to strike the fortresses of the Nusayris at the gates of Deir az-Zor military airport in Wilayat al-Kheir.

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And their fourth brother Abu A’isha led a group of the Dawla’s soldiers in the Mahin mountains in Wilayat Homs, launching an inghimasi raid into the ranks of the Nusayris, leaving dozens of them killed and wounded, and he blew up his belt in a base of the apostates of the Syrian regime army.

Umm Khalid married one of the mujahideen of the Dawla from the muhajireen, and she is one of the sisters who work in the women’s hisba apparatus in Raqqa, spending her time advising the daughters of the Muslims and applying God’s law in Wilayat al-Raqqa.

Umm Fatima al-Rusiya (released under the Diwan al-Da’wa wa al-Masajid)

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She is the mother of three martyrs who died in battles against the Russian invasions of the land of the Muslims in all of Chechnya and Afghanistan. She says having lost all her sons:

‘By God I wish I had 30 sons, so I should have them go forth to the fields of jihad and every one of them should be killed in one of the lands of Islam defending the Ummah.’

Umm Fatima migrated to Afghanistan and remained there teaching women how to raise the Islamic generation that defends its religion, and she established Dar Umm Fatima to teach women the principles of true aqeeda [creed] and how to raise the Islamic generation.

Umm Fatima returned to Chechnya after five years of da’wa [proselytization] and after she lost her three sons. The Russian intelligence arrested her in Grozny, and she spent four years in Grozny prison. After being released, Umm Fatima began making preparations to fulfil the path of her children, and there was the Grozny operation in which she participated after pledging allegiance to the Caliph Ibrahim bin Awwad al-Badri, as she set out with a group of mujahideen to attack a base for the heretic Russian police in Grozny during the country’s preparation for a speech by the taghut Putin in front of the Russian parliament.

The operation led to the killing and wounding of dozens from the ranks of the Russian police that lived for months in recollections of the strikes of the mujahideen in the depth of their abode.

Umm Fatima died during the operation to join the convoy of soldiers of the Caliphate who died defending Islam and the structure of the Caliphate in all regions of the world.

Thus we reckon her and God is her reckoner.

Fatima al-Shami (released under the Diwan al-Da’wa wa al-Masajid)

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The intifada of al-Sham arose with an instinctive spirit that tried to make its banner the banner of Islam, and its methodology that of the Prophetic methodology and the Caliphate. But the Satans of the West insisted on turning it to banners of ignorance [/blindness] and seeking help in the West and Crusaders.

Fatima al-Shami is a mother of a thirty year-old whose three children and husband were killed by the Nusayris in a massacre in the Damascus countryside.

She swore not to return to her life until the fall of the Nusayri regime, and she enlisted to fight the Nusayris with some of the battalions in Damascus countryside, but it did not take long before she left their ranks and in a question to her about the reason, she responded:

‘I did not enlist to serve these people: my enlistment was to fight the oppressors and criminals, and not to serve the offices of the leaders of the factions that have concluded truces with the Nusayris and abandoned fighting them. By God I see massacres afflicting our people and every day there is a mother like me losing her children, but they are silent and concluding truces with the criminal regime to fight the Dawla.’

Fatima joined the ranks of the Islamic State, and worked in its kitchens that prepare food for the mujahideen on the fighting fronts.

And she was transferred as they were the most difficult of places for the sisters to work in, from the Damascus countryside to Fallujah and after that to Wilayat al-Kheir.

She participated in the women’s hisba in Wilayat al-Kheir until she died in a Crusader coalition strike in the town’s countryside while she was commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong, accompanied by her sisters.

And a pledge remains upon us oh Fatima, that we will not return to our abodes before bringing down the Nusayri regime and the rest of the systems of kufr, and that God’s law should rule among His servants.

Thus we reckon her and God is her reckoner.

NOTE: For prior parts in The Archivist series you can view an archive of it all here. And for his older series see: Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad.

26 Unseen Islamic State Administrative Documents: Overview, Translation & Analysis

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Introduction

Of all jihadist groups, the Islamic State [IS] by far has presented the most comprehensive, ostensible bureaucratic structure as part of its claimed state project, embodied foremost in a system of diwans (government departments) since the declaration of the Caliphate in June 2014. The best means to analyse the nuances of this set-up is through looking at documents issued by these departments that have not been officially released in IS’ media outlets.

Here, numerous shades emerge that go beyond simple statements such as ‘IS provides services.’ For example, one pattern in the documents from the IS takeover of parts of Iraq is that the Diwan al-Khidamat (services department) in a given city is normally composed of the same staff, workers and offices of already existing government service offices in that city. It is simply that the personnel have been compelled to return to work under threat of confiscation of their homes. For a more in-depth survey, see my recent paper in the academic journal Perspectives on Terrorism primarily based on my current archive of IS documents and other collections of mine currently totalling over 200 specimens.

This post presents 26 further documents not previously in the public domain, obtained from a businessman from a town in northeast Aleppo province that is currently a stronghold of IS. For reasons that are self-evident, this person’s exact location and identity cannot be revealed, but it may be added that this person does business across IS territory, including regular trips to Mosul and Anbar. Though not necessarily a hardline, ideological supporter of IS, he nonetheless finds the security environment amenable to doing business: a common advantage perceived by Syrians who make investments and conduct transactions in IS territory.

Islamic State vs. Jabhat al-Nusra Administration

Before proceeding to the selection of documents, one question worth pondering- first suggested to me by Aaron Zelin- is comparing the IS administration with that of Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s al-Qa’ida affiliate. To put it briefly, Jabhat al-Nusra’s administrative structures lack the same sense of comprehensiveness and consistency. Jabhat al-Nusra does not have the same level of contiguous territory and urban strongholds, and the extent of its presence varies considerably from one place to another. Further, Jabhat al-Nusra is not claiming yet to be a state.

The main Jabhat al-Nusra administrative bodies that can be identified are the Dar al-Qada (Judicial Body), the Maktab al-Da’wa wa al-Irshad (Da’wa and Guidance Office) and al-Idarat al-Aama lil-Khidamat (Public Administration for Services). Broadly speaking, the Dar al-Qada corresponds to IS’ Diwan al-Qada wa al-Mazalim and Diwan al-Hisba, dealing with legal matters such as real estate and enforcement of Shari’a justice (including harsher hudud punishments like stoning fornicators to death), while the Maktab al-Da’wa wa al-Irshad corresponds to IS’ Diwan al-Da’wa wa al-Masajid (Da’wa and Mosques department), and al-Idarat al-Aama lil-Khidamat to the Diwan al-Khidamat.

However, these bodies do not exist in every place where Jabhat al-Nusra has a presence, and sometimes functions are blurred. The Dar al-Qada can be clearly identified in Idlib towns controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra, such as Sarmada, Salqin and Darkush, but in at least one instance the Dar al-Qada seems to have assumed entered into the realm of provision of public services, with the undertaking of a project to reform the main road in Sarmada. Even so, evidence suggests that Jabhat al-Nusra continues to allow civilian local and service councils in Sarmada to operate and provide services such as fixing water pumping lines, contrasting with IS co-optation of such bodies in cities like Raqqa whereby they only have the Diwan al-Khidamat label now. More recently, as part of the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition that has driven the regime out of all major towns in Idlib province since the spring, Jabhat al-Nusra has agreed with the other factions in Jaysh al-Fatah on the formation of a judicial council that is supposed to be “independent in its decisions and rulings, with no right for any faction to intervene in it.” The council is also supposed to unify judiciary authority in all areas liberated at the hands of Jaysh al-Fatah. This development comes amid complaints from the Islamic Commission for the Administration of Liberated Areas (mainly linked to Ahrar al-Sham) that some members of Jabhat al-Nusra have attacked its branches in places like Kafr Nabl.

Moving to Aleppo province, one will note the Dar al-Qada branch in Hureitan, which claims authority also over Kafr Hamra and Anadan. Here the Dar al-Qada is undoubtedly supported by the jihadi coalition Jabhat Ansar al-Din that has a presence in these towns (most notably the coalition’s main component Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar). Further up north in Azaz, the Jabhat al-Nusra presence has been limited to bases with control of one of the mosques in the town (the Mus’ab ibn Umair mosque), railing against the public school system in Azaz and offering alternative education for children.

Nevertheless, with talk of the establishment of a U.S.-Turkish safe zone stretching from Azaz to Jarabulus in the north Aleppo countryside, Jabhat al-Nusra has evacuated most of its bases in the Azaz area and is primarily operating as a small military force to provide limited reinforcements for the rebels fighting IS to the east of Azaz (these rebels being primarily the Levant Front and Ahrar al-Sham, with smaller contributions from mainly Levant Front break-offs like Thuwar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Mujahideen elements). These Jabhat al-Nusra members on the frontlines are mostly locals, while the remainder have already gone to Idlib province.

Thus it can be seen how much more complex the picture is with Jabhat al-Nusra administration. The bodies do not have a uniform presence and the group’s approach seems split between a more hardline approach embodied in the rise of the Dar al-Qada and the more traditional picture of Jabhat al-Nusra as a faction willing to work with others in administration. In 2013 what was then the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) indulged in the latter to a degree in the occasional issuing of joint statements for defensive projects and the like.

The Documents

Below, each document is translated and notes provided where applicable.

Specimen A: Activities of the services office, Manbij, Aleppo

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Manbij

Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

By order of the wali [provincial governor] of Aleppo, the services office in the town of Manbij has placed more than 600 flags on all the entrances to the town and its surrounding. The office has also made the Manbij-Jarabulus road passable for traffic, and has opened a maintenance workshop for the sewage system in the eastern quarter, has planted trees on al-Imaan street, and has done maintenance work on the Dar al-Qada in the town. And all the expenses have been referred to the Diwan al-Wilaya.

And glory belongs to God, His Messenger and the believers but the hypocrites don’t know it.

Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham
Abu [?] Al-Azadi
Wilayat Halab

Notes: Dating uncertain. The ‘Diwan al-Wilaya’ (Province Department) appears to be the same as the “General Administration” (al-Idarat al-Aama) for a given Islamic State province. A similar interchange of names can be observed in some documents regarding healthcare labelled ‘Diwan al-Siha’ (Health Department) and others labelled ‘al-Idarat al-Tibbiya’ (Medical Administration).

Specimen B: Prohibition on hoarding of goods, Yarmouk, Damascus

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Islamic State
Wilayat Dimashq
Diwan al-Hisba
28 Rajab 1436 AH [17 May 2015]

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

On the authority of Mu’ammar bin Abdullah- may God be pleased with him- from the Messenger of God (SAWS): he said: “One does not hoard except in error.”

All shops and storages in al-Yarmouk quarter are to be inspected by order of the Diwan al-Hisba in the Islamic State, and all goods being stored in hoarding will be confiscated and distributed to the Muslim populace.

Notes: Evidently in response to the dire shortage of basic commodities in Yarmouk on account of the regime siege.

Specimen C: Payment for completion of road project between Albukamal and al-Qa’im

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Islamic State
Wilayat al-Kheir
Diwan al-Khidamat

Payment Order

“And say: ‘Work, for God will observe your deeds, as will His Messenger and the believers, and you will be rendered to the One who knows the Unseen and Seen, then He will inform you of what you were doing.’” [Qur’an 9:105]

The brother Abu Dujana al-Libi [the Libyan] is to be paid a sum of $100,000 for asphalting the Albukamal-al-Qa’im road and planting with it trees so as not to expose the forces of the Islamic State in their crossing through the two towns. Also designated from the sum is that by which the streets of the two towns were decorated with the banners of the Caliphate. And God is predominant over His affair but most people don’t know it.

Published on 17 Ramadan 1436 AH [5 July 2015].

Notes: Observe the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham stamp on the bottom even though this document dates from after the Caliphate declaration. Occasionally these discrepancies in stamps come up. The payment in U.S. dollars is also noteworthy: currently the three currencies used in IS territory are Syrian pounds, Iraqi dinars and U.S. dollars. Despite all the hype about a new IS currency, no documents attest to any practical use for it. Indeed, it would not be viable as interaction between IS and the outside world is still essential for the continued cash flow and revenue streams for IS. Finally, despite the Deir az-Zor province labelling for the document, al-Qa’im and Albukamal are part of the IS-created ‘Euphrates Province’ spanning the Iraq-Syria borders.

Specimen D: Preparations for the town of Sawran, Aleppo

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Islamic State
Wilayat Halab
Diwan al-Khidamat

The flag of the Islamic State is to be raised on the phone tower in Sawran as it is the highest tower in the northern region of Wilayat Halab. And all sides of the town are to be prepared to protect the roads for the passing of the Islamic State’s convoys without their being targeted by the Crusader alliance, and the expenses are to be referred to the Diwan al-Hisba in Wilayat Halab.

Notes: Sawran is a small town to the east of Azaz that once had a Hizb-ut-Tahrir presence. Sawran came under the control ISIS following its seizure of Azaz in the fall of 2013, but was abandoned following its withdrawal to the east of Aleppo province in February 2014, seeing as how these places were isolated from its contiguous holdings and were not viable to hold. The Northern Storm Brigade, which had then joined the Islamic Front, returned to Azaz and Sawran. As IS made advances in north Aleppo countryside in summer 2014, the Northern Storm Brigade was responsible for manning the Sawran-Ahtimilat frontline. This remained static until IS’ offensive in late May this year that most notably seized Sawran, which the rebels have since been unable to recover. The raising of the banner on the phone tower was advertised in official IS propaganda.

Specimen E: Prohibition on moving and doing business with historical artefacts in found in Palmyra

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Wilayat Homs
Diwan al-Khidamat

Statement for distribution to the brothers in the Islamic State checkpoints:

It is forbidden to move or deal in any type of historical artefacts that the brothers find in Tadmur. The decision has been similarly spread in the streets to the Muslim populace. All shown to be dealing in any historical artefact from the town for outside the borders of the wilaya will be reprimanded.

Diwan al-Khidamat: 8 Ramadan 1436 AH [25 June 2015]
Abu Muhammad al-Tunisi [the Tunisian]

Notes: Recall that IS advertised the smashing of statues that had been smuggled from Palmyra, though those statues would have been destroyed anyway for idolatry. The attempt here to stop smuggling of artefacts from Palmyra is to be noted alongside licenses for excavation that have been uncovered elsewhere in IS territory under the ‘antiquities administration/division’ that belongs to the Diwan al-Rikaz [‘Precious Resources’ department], under which some smuggling of artefacts has undoubtedly taken place.


Specimen F: Sewage Works, Damascus Province

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Wilayat Dimashq
Diwan al-Khidamat

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Sewage pipes are being prepared as tunnels for the service of the Muslims in WIlayat Dimashq. These tunnels pass from Yarmouk quarter to al-Hajr al-Aswad quarter. A special tunnel is being opened for the Muslim populace and the others are being preserved for the private service of the soldiers of the Islamic State.

Notes: Exact dating uncertain but probably around the same time as Specimen B. Note how IS soldiers are often in a class of their own: cf. in my archive Specimen 60 that makes an exception on recording IDs of Islamic State soldiers who use the Internet.

Specimen G: Repentance Document, Ninawa Province

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Islamic State
Wilayat Ninawa
10 Sha’aban 1436 AH [28 May 2015]
Recorded with the Diwan al-Wilaya with no. 3245

Repentance Document

The one called Suleiman Muhammad bin Saleh Wahna’ has undertaken a Shari’a lesson in the Grand Mosque in the city of Mosul. And the brother Abu Nabhan al-Kuwaiti [of Kuwait] has overseen his repentance. And thus the brother Suleiman is to be treated as of the Muslim populace.

And glory belongs to God, His Messenger and the believers.

Notes: cf. Specimen A on the Diwan al-Wilaya

Specimen H: Educational Regulations, Deir az-Zor Province

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Wilayat al-Kheir
Diwan al-Ta’aleem

All lecturers and teachers under the rule of the Islamic State must adhere to the following:

– Cancel all prior programs issued by the apostasy governments.
– Cancel work in the name of the regime and interim ministries and replace them with Diwan al-Ta’aleem
– The subjects of Islamic Shari’a, principles of tawheed, and the Arabic language are the main subjects in the Islamic State’s programs.
– The sciences: all theories of shirk [idolatry] that speak about the beginnings of man and the Sun are to be done away with. The laws of nature are from God’s will.
– Focus on al-wala’ and al-bara’ [loyalty and disavowal] in all subjects and belonging to the Islamic State
– Putting the maps of the Islamic State in the history and geography programs.

Abu Hafs al-Masri [the Egyptian]
Head of the Diwan al-Ta’aleem in Wilayat al-Kheir

Notes: Nothing particularly surprising here. It seems that muhajireen play a disproportionate role in the management of the Diwan al-Ta’aleem at the provincial and central level in the Islamic State. The “interim” ministry refers to the Syrian opposition interim government: repentance from this system is necessary too.


Specimen I: Confiscation of a person’s property in Deir az-Zor province for not paying zakat

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Islamic State
Wilayat al-Kheir
Diwan al-Hisba
6 Sufr 1435 AH [sic.]

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

And those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in the path of God, inform them of a painful torment [Qur’an 9:34].

The property and lands of the one called ‘Hussein Shamal bin Warda’ are to be confiscated for his refusal to pay the zakat of his wealth for two years. And he will be imprisoned, rebuked and made to attend a Shari’a session with the brother Abu Abdullah al-Shari’i [Shari’a official] in the town of Mayadeen.

And God is predominant over His affair but most people don’t know it.

Notes: Dating should be Sufr 1436 AH [c. late November 2014]. Logically, the wholesale confiscation follows from taking half of a person’s wealth for refusal to pay in one year.

Specimen J: Prohibition on circulating published material not issued by the Islamic State, Damascus

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Islamic State
Wilayat Dimashq
Diwan al-Ta’aleem
“And say: My Lord, increase me in knowledge” [Qur’an 20:114]

The Almighty has said: “God will elevate those of you who have believed and been given knowledge by degrees” [Qur’an 58:11].

By order of the wali of Damascus

It is absolutely forbidden to circulate any publications, newspapers or educational schedules not issued by the Islamic State offices in Wilayat Dimashq. And all books, newspapers and stored newspapers will be confiscated in the offices and held by the Diwan al-Ta’aleem so as not to spread them.

The decision applies to al-Yarmouk quarter, al-Qadam and al-Hajr al-Aswad

14 Muharram 1435 AH [sic.]

Notes: Ignore incorrect dating (probably from recycled material). Likely issued around same time as Specimen B.

Specimen K: New educational regulations for Palmyra

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Wilayat Homs
Diwan al-Ta’aleem

God Almighty has said: “God will elevate those of you who have believed and been given knowledge by degrees, and God is well-aware of what you do”- Surat al-Majadala 11 [Qur’an 58:11].

After God blessed us with the conquest of Tadmur, the land of the Compasnions. This is a statement for distribution from the Diwan al-Ta’aleem that must be implemented to the letter from the General Administration for the Islamic State.

. Cancel the doctrine of shirk that the Nusayri regime cultivated in the souls of the people of the town.

. Establish correct Islamic doctrine free of shirk, apostasy, and sanctifying of idols.

. Making the Muslim populace aware that the land of the Caliphate encompasses all the Muslims except whoever comes upon shirk and apostasy.

. Warning of the consequences for dealing in idolatrous antiquities and ephemeral statues.

. Making children aware that one remains for God alone without the mushrikeen and their idols/stones.

“Adding the town of Tadmur to the maps of the Caliphate with provision of photos from the town with regards to the matter.”

Specimen L: Educational regulations, Aleppo province

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Wilayat Halab
Diwan al-Ta’aleem
13 Dhu al-Qa’ada 1435 AH [8 September 2014]

God Almighty has said: “God will elevate those of you who have believed and been given knowledge by degrees, and God is well-aware of what you do”- Surat al-Majadala 11 [Qur’an 58:11].

All schools of the wilaya are to be closed until fulfilment of the following matters:

. Fulfillment of the new programs put in place by the Islamic State
. Subjecting all teachers of the wilaya to Shari’a lessons in al-wala’ wa al-bara’
. Appointing new overseers in the current Diwan al-Ta’aleem by the wali of Aleppo.

Specimen M: On women’s travel and dress, Raqqa Province

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Wilayat al-Raqqa
Diwan al-Hisba
Shari’i notification

On the authority of Abu Huraira may God be pleased with him: he said: the Prophet (SAWS) said: “It is not allowed for a women who believes in God and the Last Day to travel by day or night unless she has a guardian with her.”

It is forbidden for the women without a mahrim [male guardian] to pass over the Islamic State checkpoints in the event she is travelling.

It is forbidden for the women to depart the Islamic State without her hijab and veil.

The one who is responsible for her and does not make her comply with Shari’i dress will be punished by flogging 30 times.

The women is to attend a Shari’a session for 7 days in the event of her violation of the orders of Shari’a regarding dress.

Diwan al-Hisba
Wilayat al-Raqqa

Specimen N: Fuel blockade on areas outside IS control in Aleppo and Idlib

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Islamic State
Wilayat Halab
Diwan al-Hisba

All vehicles bearing fuel are to be stopped from heading to areas controlled by the apostates in Aleppo and Idlib until further notice. And any vehicle attempting to cross to areas outside the control of the Islamic State is to be confiscated, and its owner will be reprimanded with imprisonment and paying a sum double the price of the fuel.

Notes: This blockade was imposed following IS’ offensive launched in north Aleppo countryside in late May. A respite came at the end of June with a lull in the clashes and a deal between rebels and IS to allow mutual exchange of fuel and goods, but fighting has since reignited and continued, and transportation of goods and cash between areas remains difficult but possible.

Specimen O: Formation of women’s Hisba oversight team in Mosul

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Islamic State
Wilayat Ninawa
2 Shawwal 1436 AH [19 July 2015]
City of Mosul
Diwan al-Hisba

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful:

Statement for distribution

By God’s help the women’s Hisba team has been established in the town to oversee the following matters:

– Display of women’s clothes in the shop displays.
– Entry of women into men’s shops without a mahrim.
– Women moving about in the city without full Shari’i dress.
– Fulfilling all the reprimand consequences with regards to those who violate the law upon men.

Islamic State
Amir of Mosul
Abu Qatada al-Iraqi

Notes: The prototype for this set-up was the ‘al-Khansaa Battalion’ set up to recruit women and to enforce Shari’a law in Raqqa city after the ISIS takeover in January 2014. We also learn here the name of the IS governor of Mosul. On the whole, Iraqis unsurprisingly seem to play a disproportionate role in governor positions, particularly the provincial level: cf. Abu Anas al-Samarra’i [of Samarra] the governor of Euphrates Province, Abu Osama al-Iraqi one-time of Hasakah province, Abu Ayman al-Iraqi once of Latakia, then of Anbar (both Abu Osama and Abu Ayman deceased).

Specimen P: Shop conduct regulations for women

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Dear customers,

– Adorned women may not enter the shop.
– Women may not raise their niqab.
– The woman is not to enter the shop alone, unless she has a mahrim or group of women or her sons with her.
– No talking with women except on points of buying and selling.

Please follow the instructions or leave the shop.

Notes: Dating and origin uncertain.

Specimen Q: Hisba regulations against smoking, Hit, Anbar Province

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In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Islamic State
Diwan al-Hisba
Wilayat al-Anbar
Centre: Hit

Notification no. 2

Praise be to God who says: “Those who follow the Messenger, the illiterate Prophet whom they find written about among them in the Torah and Gospel, who commands them with what is right and forbids them from what is wrong, makes lawful to them good things and forbids them from evil things”- al-‘Araf 157 [Qur’an 7:157]. And it is known to all that smoking is evil of consumption, evil of odour and evil of pain in the body.

And prayers and peace be upon His Prophet who says: “Whoever sips poison, kills himself, so he will sip this poison in his hand forever and ever in Hellfire”- narrated by Bukhari. And similarly it is known to all that smoking is not only composed of toxic substances but also addiction to it is said to be among the main causes of cancer.

Since the Islamic Shari’a has forbidden harming oneself and wealth, it is decided to forbid smoking as well as selling it, dealing in it and transporting it, beginning from 11 Muharram 1436 AH, and the violator of this notification will be subject to the following consequences.

 

Number Violation Consequence
1 Smoking openly in public places and roads Destruction of the case of cigarettes, advising him, rebuking him and making him embrace the news of the notification on smoking
2 Selling cigarettes (dealing in isolation) Destruction of the seized goods and fine on e-cigarettes: 10,000 dinars.
3 Owners of smoking goods (dealing in whole) Confiscating the car bearing the goods if it belongs to him, and destroying the confiscated quantities and detaining the dealer for 15 days.
4 Owner of a taxi used to transport cigarettes Detaining the car for three days, and a written pledge not to repeat the offence and a fine of 250,000 dinars, and in the event of repeated offence the car will be confiscated.


Date of publication: 8 Muharram 1436 AH [2 November 2014]

Notes: Hit fell to IS in October 2014 after many months of stubborn resistance. Note how a small period elapsed before the Hisba regulations were imposed.

Specimen R: Hisba regulations on women’s dress, Hit, Anbar Province

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In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Islamic State
Diwan al-Hisba
Wilayat al-Anbar
Centre: Hit

Notification no. 3

Praise be to God who says in Surat al-Nur: “And tell the believing women to reduce their sight and guard their private parts and not to flaunt their adornments, except what has appeared by necessity. And tell them to wrap a portion of their veils over their chests and not expose their adornments except to their husbands, fathers, husbands’ fathers, sons, husbands’ sons, brothers, brothers’ sons, sisters’ sons, women, that which their right hands possess, male attendants who have no sexual desire, or children who do not yet know of women’s genitals. Let them not stomp to make it known what they are concealing of their adornments. And repent to God, all of you, oh believers; peradventure you will succeed”- al-Nur 31 [Qur’an 24:31].

And prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God who brought the command of His Lord in Sura al-Ahzab when He commanded him with His words: “Oh Prophet, tell your wives, daughters and women of the believers to bring down the outer garments over themselves. That is more fitting that they should be known and not abused. And God is ever forgiving, merciful”-Ahzab 59 [Qur’an 33:59].

Since integrity and protection have been among the basic components of Islamic society, it is decided to make women embrace the entire Shari’i hijab and according to what the ‘ulama have stipulated among the conditions of the hijab: that it should not be tight-fitting for the body, nor should it be delicate and transparent for what is underneath it, nor should it be adorned dress, dress of renown, or imitating men or the disbelievers. Nor should it be perfumed, but the hijab should include veiling the face and all the body. And women will be held accountable for clothing beginning from 25 Muharram 1436 AH [19 November 2014], and violation will be subject to the following consequences:

1. Her guardian will be made to buy a Shari’i hijab and will be reprimanded with 20 lashes in front of her.

2. A taxi bearing that carries a woman with her face uncovered will be detained for 24 hours.

Islamic State: Wilayat al-Anbar
Diwan al-Hisba
Centre: Hit

Specimen S: Marriage Contract, Mosul

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Diwan al-Qada
316/8

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Shari’i Marriage Contract

Today is 7 Rajab 1436 AH corresponding to 26 April 2015.

Published on this date between the two comprising:

1. The brother Muhammad Jasim Fahad Wafiya who lives in the city of Mosul.
2. The sister Salma Jasin Bint Khalid Wafrah, who lives in the city of Mosul

The two have determined their suitability to conduct and contract to marriage and have agreed in the presence of:

1. The brother Khalid Jasim bin Saleh. Occupation: farming. Lives in the city of Mosul (wife’s guardian).
2. The brother Hashim Albu Nimr. Occupation: car dealer. Lives in the city of Mosul (first witness).
3. Mr. Omar al-Adid. Occupation: mobile phone shop. Lives in the city of Mosul (second witness).

The first side (husband): Muhammad Jasim bin Fahad Wafiya
The second side (wife): Salma Jasim bint Khalid Wafrah

The contract of the Qur’an has been fulfilled by God’s favour with a deserving dowry: i.e. contract of the husband, and its extent is: 200,000 Syrian pounds as an upfront purchase for the wife’s preparations, and 200,000 Syrian pounds as a postponed remainder in the event of the falsity of the marriage or invalidation of the marriage contract.

The first side (husband): Muhammad Jasim bin Fahad Wafiya
Signature:

The second side (wife): Salma Jasim bint Khalid Wafrah
Signature:

The witnesses

First witness: Hashim Albu Nimr.
Signature:

Second witness: Omar al-Adid
Signature:

Registration number: 316/8

Registered with the Shari’i brother Abu A’isha al-Jazrawi.

Islamic State
Diwan al-Qada

Notes: Interesting to note the use of Syrian currency in the dowry payments even though the marriage contract is for people living in Mosul. The Abu A’isha al-Jazrawi in this document should not be confused with the one-time amir of Azaz of the same kunya who replaced Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Kuwaiti and was killed in the infighting with Syrian rebels in early 2014. The establishment of the Islamic court (i.e. of what is now the Diwan al-Qada [wa al-Mazalim]) with offers to conduct marriages is (alongside the da’wa office) one of the earliest features of ISIS administration in Syria in 2013, being set up in e.g. Deir az-Zor city in the fall of 2013 at a time when other factions existed in the city. When Mosul fell in June 2014, an Islamic court quickly emerged, only this time there were no rivals to challenge what became the Islamic State and so marriages could only be legally held there.

Specimen T: Marriage Contract

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Diwan al-Qada
103/10

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Shari’i Marriage Contract

Today is 8 Ramadan 1436 AH corresponding to 26 June 2015

Published on this between the two comprising:

1. The brother Hafid al-Juburi ibn Muhammad Wahida, who lives in al-Shura district [agricultural district south of Mosul]
2. The sister Wafa al-Saleh bint Salim wa Khadija, who lives in al-Shura district

The two have determined their suitability to conduct and contract to marriage and have agreed in the presence of:
1. The brother Salim al-Saleh bin Muhammad wa Haifa. Occupation: farmer (wife’s guardian).
2. The brother Ahmad al-Saleh bin Mursa wa Sara. Occupation: farmer. Lives in al-Shura district (first witness).
3. Mr. Musa al-Qaturi [?] bin Ahmad wa Huna. Occupation: merchant. Lives in al-Shura district (second witness).

The first side (husband): Hafid al-Juburi ibn Muhammad Wahida
The second side (wife): Wafa al-Saleh bint Salim wa Khadija

The contract of the Qur’an has been fulfilled by God’s favour with a deserving dowry: i.e. contract of the husband, and its extent is: 200,000 Syrian pounds as an upfront purchase for the wife’s preparations, and 200,000 Syrian pounds as a postponed remainder in the event of the falsity of the marriage or invalidation of the marriage contract.

The first side (husband): Hafid al-Juburi ibn Muhammad Wahida
Signature:

The second side (wife): Wafa al-Saleh bint Salim wa Khadija
Signature:

The witnesses

First witness: Ahmad al-Saleh
Signature:

Second witness: Musa al-Qaturi
Signature:

Registration no. 103/10

Registered with the Shari’i brother Abu Dujana al-Libi [the Libyan]

Islamic State
Diwan al-Qada

Specimen U: Regulations for bakeries, Hit, Anbar Province

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Islamic State
Wilayat al-Anbar
Diwan al-Khidamat: Hit centre

Publication for all the bakeries in Hit centre

A quantity of 10 tonnes of flat loafs of bread is to be received as a daily quota for every oven with inclusion of receipts through the Diwan al-Hisba that on a weekly basis will be referred to the Diwan al-Khidamat. And in the event of violation the bakery will be closed and its owner will be fined according to the quantities missing in tonnes.

Islamic State
Wilayat al-Anbar: Hit centre
Diwan al-Khidamat

Issued by the Diwan al-Khidamat no. 13/2
6 Shawwal 1436 AH [22 July 2015]

Specimen V: Request for garbage compactors, Hit, Anbar

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Islamic State
Wilayat al-Anbar
Diwan al-Khidamat: Hit Centre

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

“And cooperate on the basis of piety and fear of God, not sin and hostility.”

It is requested to send compactors for the loading of garbage from the centre of the wilaya. And we inform you that three compactors were in the centre of the town and were moved through facilitation of the Diwan al-Wali to Wilayat al-Kheir [Deir az-Zor province]. And the complaints presented from the Diwan al-Hisba are true and are our reasons that solicit us to write this note.

Islamic State
Wilayat al-Anbar: Hit Centre
Diwan al-Khidamat

Notes: Diwan al-Wali= Diwan al-Wilaya. Exact dating uncertain

Specimen W: Prohibition on mortgaging homes, Hit, Anbar

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Islamic State
Wilayat al-Anbar
Diwan al-Khidamat: Hit Centre

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The mortgaging of homes in the town of Hit is forbidden by order of the Diwan al-Hisba in Wilayat al-Anbar.

On account of the frequency of the states of mortgage and the loan that brings along interest for the owner of the house [cf. here for context] all who deal in mortgages will be detained, reprimanded and referred to the Diwan al-Hisba, and the house will be confiscated for the interest of the Diwan al-Khidamat.

Islamic State
Wilayat al-Anbar: Hit Centre
Diwan al-Khidamat

Diwan al-Khidamat no. 6/1
2 Rajab 1436 AH [21 April 2015]

Specimen X: Request for broadcast of media release, Ninawa Province

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Islamic State
Diwan al-Khilaf[a?]
Wilayat Ninawa
Media Office

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

In the shade of the victories of your brothers in the Islamic State, and the advance of its mujahideen on all extensive fronts in Bilad al-Sham and Iraq, the presentation of a media release is requested, which will be published in all media outlets, so as to take an echo from the successes of the Islamic Caliphate, and hold public seminars in the city of Mosul.

Islamic State
Media Office for Wilayat Ninawa

Certified by the amir of Mosul: Abu Qatada al-Iraqi

Notes: Likely dates from the aftermath of the conquests of Ramadi and Palmyra in May 2015: cf. Specimen 4H in my archive with offer for free entry to the Waritheen hotel and amusement park in Mosul in celebration of the conquests.

Specimen Y: Request for dispatch of personnel contingent and weapons, Azaz

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In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham
Wilayat Halab

Salam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu. To the distinguished brother Abu Abdullah al-Libi, we ask you to send Abu Obeida al-Benghazi’s group to us for we are in need of them and to ask for weapons from their amir Abu Obeida.

[…]

Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham
Wilayat Halab
Amir of the Azaz area

Abu al-Waleed al-Muhajir

Notes: Abu al-Waleed al-Muhajir is otherwise unknown. He was never the amir of the Azaz area: it is just this document has the amir’s stamp. Dating unclear, though it may relate to the conflict with the Northern Storm Brigade that began in September 2013.

Specimen Z: Punishments for not closing shop during prayer time, Homs Province

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Wilayat Homs
Diwan al-Hisba

All shops are to be closed during prayer time. Whoever is absent from prayer three times in a row will have his shop confiscated and flogged 30 times in front of his shop, to be an example to others besides him from those falling short in undertaking prayers.

Islamic State
Wilayat Homs: 11 Ramadan 1436 AH [28 June 2015]

 

The Clear Banner sub-blog on Jihadology.net is primarily focused on Sunni foreign fighting. It does not have to just be related to the phenomenon in Syria. It can also cover any location that contains Sunni foreign fighters. If you are interested in writing on this subject please email me at azelin [at] jihadology [dot] net.

From Paradise Now To Paradise Hereafter: Maldivian Fighters In Syria

By Dr. Azra Naseem

The young man was on his way to school when Ali Adam first saw him. He was a high achiever; among national Top Ten in the GCE O’Level examinations1. Every day after school the young man worked in a shop. That’s where Adam met him next. Slowly, Adam cultivated a relationship with him until he became a close friend. This is when Adam’s real work began.

Everyday the two friends met. They discussed religion. Adam always started the discussions with stories about the plight of Muslims living in countries like Palestine, Pakistan, Yemen and Syria. The stories were meant to arouse the young man’s sympathies. When they ended, the young man understood ‘Jihad is a duty.’ Half of Adam’s work was done.

About six months later, Adam began the second phase of his work: to take the young man as far as Pakistan. Adam first accompanied him to India. The young man’s parents cried, begged him not to go. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. The young man’s sister was a student in India; she, too, decided to go with him. He wanted to take another woman with him. Adam only agreed on condition the young man married her. About five people were gathered together and a wedding was quickly performed.

When we got to Pakistan, a LashkareTaiba agent said the marriage was not valid. We were told to return home. I came to Male’. The young man’s sister went back to study in India. He stayed in Pakistan for about five years, doing odd jobs,’ Adam said, when asked what the most memorable events in his story were.

Adam says he is a recruiter who finds Maldivians to fight in Syria. About a year ago, he ‘saw the errors of his ways’ and stopped the work. He described his job, and that of his co-workers, as operating within ‘a major network’. It is an endless task, beginning with collecting funds and recruiting people in the Maldives.

[…]

The recruitment work is done in parallel with procuring finance. Adam described the recruitment process step by step: sermons that encourage ‘Jihad’ are given in mosques like Dharumavantha Mosque where people hold the Friday prayers in a separatist congregation [away from the mainstream mosques]. Some people travel to outer islands on the pretext of teaching Quran recitation and providing religious counselling. Envoys are also sent to Maldivian students in countries like Sudan, Egypt and Yemen to enlist their support. They look for people ‘who can be easily convinced’, and seek to ‘play with their minds’.

According to Hussein Rasheed, who was arrested at Male’ airport en route to Syria, Maldivian fighters travel to Syria via Sri Lanka, India or Thailand – all popular travel destinations with Maldivians. The would-be fighters stopover at these destinations [for varying lengths of time] before travelling to Turkey to cross the border into Syria. That’s when ‘Jihad’ begins. They don weapons, and carry out suicide attacks.

I know 15 to 20 Maldivians who are in Syria right now. This includes a woman, too. Some Maldivian students who had been studying in Egypt, Sudan and Yemen lead these fighters. One of them has a family in Syria, including a baby. All Maldivians are fighting with Al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra’, Rasheed said.

What type of Maldivian goes to Syria? Do any of them want to return to Maldives? What happens to their families [in Syria] if one of them dies in battle? All questions.

I know that among the fighters are people who have been convicted and sentenced in relation to the Himandhoo case and in connection with the Sultan Park bombing. I don’t think anyone who went there has returned. I doubt any would. If one of them dies, someone else will marry his [the deceased man’s] widow. Expenses will also be looked after, and money given,’ Rasheed, who was arrested last year, said in answer to those questions.

[…]

The above text is a translation of an article in Maldivian daily newspaper, Haveeru, published on 4 June 2014, shortly after the first Maldivian died fighting in Syria2. It serves as an introduction to a growing problem confronted by Maldives – a steady increase in the number of people leaving for ‘Jihad’ in Syria.

Background

Officially, the Maldives is a ‘100% Muslim’ country. The state religion is Islam, and its constitution stipulates every citizen must be a Muslim. Only a Sunni Muslim can be President, or become a judge. Despite what the legal stipulations may suggest, for centuries Islam in Maldives has been fundamentally different from the strict, fundamentalist Islam practised in some ‘Islamic states’. Both the island culture and the centuries old pre-Islamic Buddhist history, as well as its remote geography and distance from the ‘Islamic world’ leant itself to the evolution of an Islam that, while adhering to the five basic tenets of the religion, reflected few of the common practises and jurisprudence followed by other ‘100% Muslim’ countries. This, however, changed drastically in the 21st Century, especially after the United States-led War on Terror began. With seemingly unlimited funding from Islamist societies and organisations—mostly Saudi Arabia—Islam that follows the teachings of ‘Revolutionary Islamism’3 has become predominant, side-lining the country’s Traditionalist Islamic practises with astounding success4.

Dying in Syria

Maldivians in Syria

Figure 1. Abu Turab (L) first Maldivian known to have died fighting in Syria

The first Maldivian fighter known to have died in Syria was a 44-year-old named as Abu Turab He was later identified as Ali Adam from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll5.

Two days later, another man, Abu Nuh, was reported killed in Syria. He was later identified as Hassan Shifaz from the capital island of Male’. Since then, around a dozen Maldivians are known to have died fighting in Syria.

Maldivians in Syria2

Figure 2 Abu Nuh, second Maldivian to die in Syria

Authorities differ greatly on the number of Maldivians who have travelled to join the war in Syria. The most recent police estimate put the figure at 50, while the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) puts the figure at around 200. While it is hard to get an accurate figure, judging from the number of reported deaths and the increasing numbers reported as leaving for Syria, the police estimate is ultra-conservative and, not unintentionally, misleading. The Maldives Police Service and the government have been largely6 unable or unwilling to address the issue. This is not surprising, given the links said to exist between the government, Islamists and law enforcement authorities7. At the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on 6 May 2015, Maldivian Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon denied any Maldivian links to terrorism, and refrained from making any reference to the growing number of people leaving to Syria.

In contrast to the government’s reluctant admission to existence of limited extremism, the opposition has, for several years now, highlighted religious extremism as a major concern. Their figure of 200 fighters in Syria, however, appears inflated—at least for now. A more accurate figure would be somewhere in-between. From a population of just over 300,000 this is still a shockingly large number. There are more Maldivian fighters in Syria than there are from Afghanistan or many other countries in the Middle East8.

Hijra’ in large groups

In October 2014, Ahsan Ibrahim (23) left for Syria with his mother, wife and 11-year-old sister. They left their island Meedhoo, in Raa Atoll, on the pretext of seeking medical treatment in the capital Male’. Ali Ibrahim, father of Ahsan and the 11-year-old girl, only became aware of their plans a week later. In the five months since, Ali Ibrahim has only heard from his family once. ‘We are in Iraq’, Ahsan told his father in a phone call made on Viber. Ahsan told his father they have no intention of returning to the Maldives, which he described as ‘a land of sin’. They left it behind to be ‘on the right path’. With help from Maldivian authorities Ali Ibrahim confirmed his family has crossed the Turkish border into Syria, but he has no way of knowing whether his wife and children are dead or alive.9

Increasingly, Maldivians are leaving for Syria in large groups. This new trend can be spotted from early January 2015 onwards, when it was reported that a group of seven Maldivians had left together for Syria. It was also the first time connections emerged between dangerous criminal elements in society and those travelling to Syria. All seven members of the group belonged to a criminal gang. Among them was Azleef Rauf, a notorious gangster accused of involvement, among other violent crimes, in the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali, an MP and a religious scholar known for relatively moderate views. The group entered Syria via the Turkish border. According to local media reports, Azleef planned to take his pregnant wife, one-year-old son and four-year-old daughter with him but was prevented by the wife’s family.10

Another group of six, en route to Syria to join with Azleef’s group, were stopped in Malaysia and returned to the Maldives on 12 January 2015. Their plans were reported to the police by a family member and four were stopped by a joint operation by Malaysian and Maldives police. Whereabouts of the other two are unknown, but they are believed to be in Indonesia11.

Another group of six Maldivians left for Syria on 29 January 2015. The group included the Imam of a mosque in capital Male’, Zameer Farouq. Farouq’s wife accompanied him. According to local reports, Zameer Farouq was arrested a week earlier in connection with a theft. Although he was released after questioning, police were in the process of acquiring a search warrant for his residence when he left for Syria12.

In February 2015, local news reported the death of a Maldivian baby in Syria. The child’s parents were among a group that left for Jihad in December with their new-born. The baby contracted a respiratory disease and died without access to medical care. According to local newspaper Haveeru, the baby’s mother attempted to return home when the child fell ill, but her husband and other fighters prevented her from doing so. The group included a second woman. According to the same report, another couple travelled to Syria with a new-born in February 201513.

Maldivians in Syria3

Figure 3. Maldivian baby born in Syria

On 2 March 2015, a Maldivian fighter in Syria, @abuayubalmaldif, Tweeted news and photographs of a baby born in Syria to another Maldivian fighter, @AbuYunus123. Both Twitter accounts have since been suspended.

Two more deaths of Maldivian fighters in Syria were reported in March. According to Haveeru Daily newspaper, 38-year old Abdulla Mohamed Didi from the island of Hithadhoo was killed in a bomb attack in Idlib on 26 March. According to a family member, Didi travelled to Syria via Malaysia about three months previously. Didi was the father of three children and the son of a prominent businessman. He did not inform the family of his intentions.

Maldivians in Syria4

Figure 4. Ahmad Musniu

The first Maldivian death reported in March was that of Ahmed Musniu (28) from the island of Fuammulak14. Musniu, who was reported to have been killed on 18 March 2015, had travelled to Syria with his wife. They had been married less than a year. It is not known whether Munsiu’s wife wants to return to the Maldives or not.

The latest Maldivian death, reported on 15 April 2015, was of Hassan Jalal (27), who left for Syria December 201415.

The number of deaths reported, including discussions of Maldivians leaving for Syria, has dwindled drastically in the last 30 days or so. Whether this is because Bilad al-Sham Media, which purports to be the official mouthpiece of Maldivians in Syria (discussed below), has stopped reporting their deaths, or the result of tighter government controls on news of their departures, is not yet known. With no concrete steps being taken to prevent their departure–although legislation is in the process of being introduced to criminalise travelling abroad to join foreign wars16–it is unlikely there has been a sudden reversal in the trend.

Who are the fighters?

As with foreign fighters travelling to Syria from other countries, there is no ‘typical’ profile of the type of Maldivian joining the war. The ages of the Maldivian men who have died in Syria range from 20s to 40s. Some of the women known to be in Syria are in the same age group. The community also includes children who have been born in Syria to children aged 10 and above. What most have in common is the belief that Maldives is ‘a land of sin’17 which they must leave to be ‘true Muslims’. They see the journey as a Hijra, a religious migration to pure Islamic lands. The motive, according to their accounts, is to assist their Muslim brothers and sisters persecuted by the Kafirs (Infidels). Added to this are an increasing number of criminals motivated by various personal reasons such as absconding from law.

They hail from various parts of the Maldives – a 1200 island archipelago scattered across roughly 90,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean. Their educational and socio-economic backgrounds vary greatly. Some are high achievers in the predominantly Western education system in the Maldives, others have been educated in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Malaysia while others have not completed even primary level education. There have been students, religious figures, ex-military men and also civil servants. Noteworthy among the latter are some officials from the Maldives Department of Immigration and Emigration18. One Immigration official was convicted in 2014 of allowing several convicted terrorists, involved in carrying out the only bomb attack ever in Male’, to flee the country and travel to Syria to join the war. More recently, Immigration officials were reported to have helped nine Syrian refugees to fly to Bulgaria via the Maldives with false passports19.

Path to Jihad

Recruiting Maldivians to fight in the Syrian war is being conducted at a rapid pace through a well-laid network that operates both on and off-line. How the process works on an individual basis was described at the beginning of this article. Some of the activities described in it, such as closed and open lectures in particular mosques, are conducted at a national level. Narratives and ideas that portray the war in Syria as one between Muslims and Infidels are a recurring theme in these lectures, and also in mainstream activities conducted by leading figures within the Maldivian community of Islamic scholars. These ‘mainstream’ offline activities are often conducted in tandem with online activities.

Online disseminators

43% of the Maldivian population (168,990 people) are active social media users20, the highest number in South Asia. To put things into perspective, only 9% of the population in neighbouring country Sri Lanka are active mobile social media users. India, another close neighbour, has a social media penetration of only 7% of the population. This makes Maldivians more open to Internet and social media influences than even some developed First World countries in the Asia-Pacific region such as New Zealand. Given this high level of Internet penetration in the Maldives, and considering the worldwide role of the Internet in facilitating radical religious ideologies, it is not surprising that disseminators of such ideas have embraced social media zealously.

There are a large number of Maldivian religious organisations and individuals that disseminate information encouraging Revolutionary Islamist ideologies. Their narratives carry the recurring tropes depicting Maldives as ‘a land of sin’; and a beleaguered Ummah at war with Infidels. While many of the Sheikhs engaging in this rhetoric stop short of openly encouraging Maldivians from joining ‘Jihad’, these tropes are reflected in the reasons given by Maldivian and other foreign fighters for travelling to Syria and Iraq.

A popular medium of communication for religious civil society organisations is Facebook. The five most popular such organisations have at least 10,000 supporters (Likes) each, some have over 20,000. It should be noted here that several of the popular organisations dedicate themselves solely to governing the conduct of the Muslim self, rather then address broader issues like violent Jihad. All of them [both pro-Jihad and silent on the issue] share a common communications strategy: provide people with bite-sized messages they can easily understand and share with others on their Facebook network. A common tool for this is bite-sized ‘info graphics’ – a roughly 4×4 inch picture on which are superimposed various Hadith or verses from the Qur’an translated into Dhivehi. These info graphics are shared among 100s of people on Facebook, and are seen, read and interpreted by thousands, influencing their religious discourse on and offline. Most religious NGOs on Facebook are present across the entire spectrum of social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Ask FM, and others. The NGOs appear to organise a large number of offline activities throughout the year. Chief among them are regular lectures at mosques across the country, Da’wah camps to invite people to answer the Call of Islam, Takziya Camps, Taw’heed camps in addition to lectures across the entire length and breadth of the country.

These activities are conducted all year round, and increase in number during school holidays. In the lead-up to a planned event, they are advertised on Facebook. Once they occur, photographs are uploaded on Instagram and Facebook. It is also live broadcast on Atoll Radio, dedicated to Revolutionary Islamism, and are live streamed on other social media and Internet platforms. Video clips are uploaded on Facebook and Vimeo; there is full social media saturation.

In addition to the NGOs and other civil society organisations, a large number of clerics communicate with the population via Facebook. They, too, count their Facebook supporters in tens of thousands, and the number increases rapidly almost on a daily basis. It should be noted here, also, that not all of the clerics listed here in order of their Facebook popularity, are known to support Jihad. In fact, Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed, who was the Islamic Minister until the first of week of May 2015, has maintained throughout that in his personal view, Syria cannot qualify as a Jihad21. Notably few have publicly supported his view.

Maldivians in Syria5

Table 1. Increasing support for popular disseminators of religious ideologies both radical and relatively non-radical

The main cause for concern is a new type of preacher—someone (often has with little religious but) who is good at performance and theatrics—that has emerged to dominate Maldivian religious landscape in the past decade or so. Sheikh Adam Shameem is the leader among this group with over 21,000 Likes on his Facebook Page, a figure which means close to 6% of the entire population has ‘Liked’ the Sheikh.

Maldivians in Syria6

Figure 5. Sheikh Adam Shameem

Some of the Sheikh Shameem’s performances are reminiscent of theatrical Evangelical churches in the United States. Shameem’s media profile is typical of popular preachers. He has a website, a Facebook Page, a Twitter handle; an Instagram account; a YouTube Channel; and a charity organisation that also promotes all his activities. All his lectures are advertised on all his social media platforms and video-taped, and full lectures are made available on YouTube. The lectures are also downloadable as audio files. Backing up this strong appearance online is traditional media, radio and television which often broadcast the lectures live. Not to be forgotten is Internet live streaming of the events. Sheikh Shameem is representative of the shared vision of the clerics who dominate Maldivian religious discourse. He is staunchly against democracy; supports FGM; thinks women who do not wear the black veil are naked and without shame; believes music is haram; and wants Maldives to be governed strictly according to Shari’a. He preaches hate against ‘the Infidels’, and is a racist. He, too, believes Muslims are at war with the West, and rightly so. This narrative of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ forms the basis of the ideology which drives many Maldivians to hate the ‘Infidel’ and, ultimately, to wage war against ‘them’.

Maldivians in Syria7

Figure 6. Shaikh Adam Nishan ‘bin al-Adam al-Maaldheefee

A more recent figure, albeit with less followers (3000 Facebook Likes), that has contributed to the narrative is Sheikh Adam Nishan. He is noteworthy for openly supporting Jihad. He describes himself as a Graduate of Madhinah Islamic University in Al-Madhinathuh Nabawiyyah and currently completing masters at Al-Madhinah International University in Malaysia.” He has, on many occasions, openly encouraged ‘Jihad’ via Facebook. On 1 June 2014, for example, he posted a video with the title: ‘Is the conflict in Syria a civil war?’ In the two minute video, full of graphic violence including beheadings, he answers the question:

No, it’s not. Bashar Al-Assad has been making people in Syria call him God, which makes him an Infidel, which in turn makes the conflict in Syria one between Muslims and Infidels and, therefore, not a civil war.

Maldivians in Syria8

Ten days later, he was discussing the subject again. This time he was negating the opinion expressed by some Sheikhs (not on Facebook) that there are certain conditions, which have to be met before fighting in a conflict can qualify as Jihad. Among these conditions are not to fight without an Imam; and not to join the Jihad without permission from one’s leader (head of state) and one’s parents. According to Sheikh Nishan these conditions do not apply when the entire Ummah is under threat from Infidels and when troops are fighting to free Islamic states from Infidels as, according to him, is the case in Syria.

Among the popular figures that contribute to the narrative of a Muslim world besieged and in need of brave warriors, are also individuals with absolutely no religious education but have grown a following as purveyors of certain religious ideologies.

Maldivians in Syria9 Maldivians in Syria10

Figure 7. Ali Rameez, from Singer to ‘Sheikh’

A former pop singer, Ali Rameez who has a following of over 50,000 Facebook ‘Likes’, is the most popular among this type of disseminator. An analysis of his Facebook posts (December 2013-January 2015) shows, in summary, that it is very important for Rameez to differentiate between Muslims and Infidels, the former being good and the latter evil. Any cause, concept or law supported by ‘the West’ is to be denounced. He denounces democracy, sometimes using the most unlikely of incidents as proof that democracy is to blame for social problems in various countries. On 7 March 2014, for example, he shared a post about an Indian rape victim who sought police protection and was raped again while she was under that protection. Faux Sheikh Ali Rameez shared a link to the news with this comment: ‘Democracy changed India from rural to a rapist country…” (7 March 2014).

Dedicated websites

There are several websites that are disseminators of Revolutionary Islamist ideologies encouraging hatred of non-believers and calling on Maldivians to unite against them, waging war if necessary. Chief among them is Haqqu, dedicated entirely to the promotion of ISIS. Haqqu is a website launched in August 2014, shortly after the proclamation of the Islamic State’s self-styled Caliphate. It began with a Facebook Page, which was launched on 5 August 2014. The Facebook Page is still in operation, and at the beginning of March, had over 800 Likes. It has several articles and books in the local language Dhivehi that promote Jihad and ISIS including a biography, or more accurately a hagiography, of Al-Baghdadi, the Caliph of Islamic State (28 September 2014). It also discusses the First Caliphate under Abu Bakr, after which is a profile of Sheikh Abdulla Yousuf Al Azzam [also known as the Father of Global Jihad]22, who is described as Sheikh-Al Mujahidin in the article. The site is heavily critical of religion as it is practised in the Maldives; the government’s refusal to accept Shari’a as the only system of law in the country in particular; and the democratic form of governance in general.

Also noteworthy among the websites is Bilad Al-Sham Media, which describes itself as the official media representative of Maldivians fighting in Syria. It was started on 15 August 2013. It is likely that the claim is true. The organisation, which also has a Facebook Page, brought news of the first Maldivian death in Syria, and has since been providing local media with details of the Maldivian ‘community’ of over 50-200 people now said to be residing in Syria having heeded the call to Jihad. The Bilad Al Sham website is entirely dedicated to Jihad-related news, literature and discussions. Most of its content is written in English. According to its own news reports, one of the Maldivians killed fighting in Syria (September 2014), Abu Dujanah, was the editor of the organisation. This, too, is likely to be true—the website has been much less active since September 2014. There have been no new posts since 4 December 2014.

With regard to the content of the website, until recently, it was meticulous in providing ‘biographies’ of the Maldivians who are ‘martyred’ fighting with Jabhat Al-Nusra. They made available, for example, the biographies of Abu Dujanah Al Maldeefee23 (18 November 2014), ‘Maldivian Martyrdom Bomber’, Abu Turab (15 June 2014) and Abu Nuh (1 June 2014). They were all written by Abu Ayyub Al Maldifi, based in Syria (his Twitter account is analysed below). Although there have been other Maldivian deaths reported24 since Abu Dujanah’s in September 2014, the Bilad Al Sham Media website has not provided any literature on their lives or deaths.

Apart from the biographies, the entire focus of Bilad Al-Sham Media is to provide evidence from Islamic teachings and history that support and encourage Maldivians to join the Jihad with Jabhat Al-Nusra. Among its most popular posts are ‘First Chapter: Forty Hadith about the virtues of Martyrdom’25, a poem by one of the ‘martyrs’ dedicated to his mother posted as an audio file uploaded on YouTube26; and a post on why ISIS should not be supported, ‘Clearing the Accusations against Ahlul-Jihad and clarifying the errors of Jama’at ISIS’27.

General Online Support for Jihad

A look at Facebook Pages of Maldivians in July and August of 2014, shortly after the death of the first Maldivian fighter in Syria, and following the proclamation of the Islamic State, revealed broad support for Jihad and ISIS among many. Many began using ISIS/IS related insignia or pictures as their Cover Page during this time while many others used material associated with other Jihadis, such as the black flag used by fighters with Jabhat Al-Nusra—with whom most Maldivian fighters in the region are affiliated. Many also adopted the black flag of IS as their logo/cover picture or had a black flag with the Shahadath printed on it in white, preferred by Al-Nusra. Some that did not have either, had pictures of warriors on horseback fighting in the desert with swords.

An examination of 100 Profile Pages of individuals who adopted one or more of the above features showed that people from all walks of life in the Maldives support Jihad. A large number of them are in the civil service, which is the country’s biggest employer. Among supporters of Jihad are staff from the Ministry of Islam Affairs; the Prosecutor General’s Office; Ibrahim Nasir International Airport; Gan International Airport; Correctional Services; Housing Development Authority; the Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital; and Customs. Among the professions on the list are journalists; software designers; airline technicians; teachers; spiritual healers; airport workers; divers; construction workers; preachers; spiritual healers; airline ticketing agents; Qur’an teachers; and prison officers. Judging from the educational affiliations provided, a significant number list the Maldives National University (MNU) as their college while another significant number also list the Centre for Higher Secondary Education (CHSE). This supports the unofficial reports long in circulation that both institutions have teachers and lecturers who subscribe to ‘Revolutionary Islamist’ ideologies and have been instructing students to follow the same path. Another significant number of such Profiles were associated with the Centre for Holy Qur’an.

Conclusions

As this analysis shows, for such a geographically isolated country with a very small population, the ‘Jihad’ in Syria and Iraq has attracted an astonishingly large number of Maldivians. This is due to active recruitment efforts, behind which is massive—seemingly inexhaustible—funding; the sources of which remain secret. The remarkable success of the recruiters is facilitated by the lack of education—both general and religious—among a vast majority of the population; dedication to the cause by committed Revolutionary Islamists educated abroad; and the widely available Internet. Added to this is the conducive environment to recruitment created by the lack of concern (and sometimes active collusion with) shown by governing authorities to this very serious issue. Another factor is the decreasing power of non-religious civil society. Very few have the money, and even fewer the will or inclination, to produce and utilise the media to disseminate more moderate narratives that counter or challenge the zeal and content of those produced and spread by the Revolutionary Islamists. Unfortunately for the Maldives—and for those concerned about the ever increasing threat to global security by ISIS and other Jihadists, this little haven of tropical beauty and little geo-strategic significance—will continue to contribute a disproportionate amount of fighters to the ‘global Jihad’.

Dr. Azra Naseem is a Research Fellow at Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction at Dublin City University. Her research focuses on religious radicalisation of the people of Maldives, and implications of the process for South Asian security, especially India. 

______________

NOTES:

1 General Certificate of Examinations, Ordinary Level, London. Secondary School leaving certificate examinations taken by Maldivian students who complete secondary level school.

Not his real name

2 Ali Nafiz, ‘The Six Sides to Maldivian Fighters’, Haveeru Daily [Dhivehi] 4 June 2014. Last accessed: http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/report/155292 on 11 April 2015

3 ‘Revolutionary Islamists’ is one among many categories of Islamists as defined by Mir Zahir Husain, 2003, Global Islamic Politics, (Boston: Longman). Husain describes the term as being: ‘variously referred to in both popular and scholarly culture as fundamentalists, scriptualists, legalists, literalists, restitutionists, puritans, militants, and radicals.’ (p.63)

4 For more details of the change, read ‘The Maldives’ long road from Islam to Islamism: A short history’.

Not his real name. All Maldivian fighters in Syria, like their counterparts from other countries, adopt a new name when they join the war. Most have suffix Al-Maldheefee (Maldives, in Arabic).

5 Ahmed Rilwan, ‘Maldivian militant killed in Syrian suicide attack, claims online Jihadist group’, Minivan News, 25 May 2014. Last accessed: http://minivannews.com/politics/maldivian-militant-killed-in-syria-suicide-attack-claims-online-jihadist-group-85600#sthash.p0DdOOM7.dpbs on 13 April 2015

6 Hassan Mohamed, ‘Government to stop flow of Maldivians joining Jihad’, 14 April 2015. Last accessed: http://minivannews.com/politics/government-stop-flow-of-maldivians-joining-jihad-96289#sthash.AiCehBXo.dpbs on 8 May 2015. This was the first indication of any official counter-measures.

7 Zaheena Rasheed, ‘Analysis: Gangsters, Islamists, police and the rule of low’, Minivan News, 23 November 2014. Last accessed: http://minivannews.com/feature-comment/analysis-gangsters-islamists-police-and-the-rule-of-low-91217#sthash.sPmcAeg5.dpbs on 8 May 2015

8 ‘Foreign fighters flow to Syria’, The Washington Post, 11 October 2014. Last accessed: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/foreign-fighters-flow-to-syria/2014/10/11/3d2549fa-5195-11e4-8c24-487e92bc997b_graphic.html on 7 May 2015

10 Ali Nafiz, ‘Azleef in Syria, had intended to take entire family!’, Haveeru Daily (Dhivehi), 07 January 2015. Last accessed: http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/jihad/165323 on 16 April 2015

11 Ali Nafiz, ‘People connected to Azleef stopped in Malaysia en route to Syria and returned to Male’’, Haveeru Daily (Dhivehi) 21 January 2015. Last accessed: http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/jihad/165864 on 16 April 2015

12 Ali Nafiz, ‘Large group to Syria, some with wives!’, Haveeru Daily (Dhivehi) 01 February 2015. Last Accessed: http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/jihad/166415 on 16 April 2015

13 Ali Nafiz, ‘A Maldivian baby, less than a year old, dies in Syria without medical care’, Haveeru Daily (Dhivehi), 5 February 2015. Last accessed at http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/jihad/166634 on 16 April 2015

14 Aminath Shifleen, “A Fuammulak youth had died in the Syria war”, Haveeru Daily (Dhivehi), 23 March 2015. Last accessed http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/maldives_religious_issues/168877 23 April 2015

15 Hussein Fiyaz Moosa ‘A son of Luthfee has died in Syrian war’, Haverru Daily (Dhivehi) 15 April 2015. Last accessed: http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/jihad/169972 on 23 April 2015

16 Hassan Mohamed, ‘New bill grants authority to declare groups ‘terrorist organisations’’, Minivan News, 6 May 2015. Last accessed: http://minivannews.com/politics/new-bill-grants-president-authority-to-declare-groups-terrorist-organisations-97178#sthash.on4tdWSs.dpbs 8 May 2015.

17 ‘Maldives a land of sin’, says Jihadist after departing for ISIS territory’, Minivan News, 23 October 2014. Last accessed: http://minivannews.com/society/maldives-a-land-of-sin-says-jihadist-after-departing-with-family-for-isis-territory-90597#sthash.UobwnzIZ.dpbs 8 May 2015

18 Ali Nafiz, “Two Immigration officers also in Syria!’, Haveeru Daily (Dhivehi), 8 January 2015. Last accessed: http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/maldives_religious_issues/165351 on 23 April 2015

19 Aminath Shifleen, ‘People who helped some Syrians to fly out with false passports arrested’, Haveeru Daily (Dhivehi) 9 April 2015. Last accessed: http://www.haveeru.com.mv/dhivehi/news/169685?o=hm_m on 23 April 2015

20 ‘Active mobile social media penetration in Asian countries in October 2014’, Statistia. Accessed online: http://www.statista.com/statistics/295631/active-mobile-social-media-penetration-in-asian-countries/ on 26 February 2015

21 Mariyath Mohamed, ‘Maldivians shouldn’t fight foreign wars in name of Islam’, says Islamic Minister, Minivan News, 28 May 2014. Last accessed: http://minivannews.com/politics/maldivians-shouldnt-fight-foreign-wars-in-name-of-islam-says-islamic-minister-85967#sthash.yhrW4gNp.dpbs on 28 May 2014

22 For an introduction to the Sheikh Abdulla Yousuf Al Azzam, see the following article by ‘Perspectives on World History and Current Events’ http://www.pwhce.org/azzam.html Accessed on 27 February 2015

23 For the full biography, visit https://biladalsham.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-biography-of-abu-dujanah/, Bilad Al Sham Media, 18 November 2014. Last accessed 5 March 2015

24 Maldivian Jihadist fighter dies in Syria, Minivan News, 8 November 2015 http://minivannews.com/society/maldivian-jihadist-fighter-dies-in-syria-90883 Last accessed on 5 March 2015

25 ‘First Chapter: Forty Hadith about the virtues of Martyrdom’, Bilad Al-Sham Media, 9 June 2014. Accessed online: https://biladalsham.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/first-chapter-forty-hadith-about-the-virtues-of-martyrdom/ on 5 March 2015

26 Abu Nuh Al-Muhaajir, ‘Loabivaa Mamma’ [Beloved Mother], Bilad Al-Sham Media, 16 August 2014. Accessed online at: https://biladalsham.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/loabivaa-mamma-abu-nuh-al-muhaajir/ on 5 March 2015

27 ‘Clearing the Accusations against Ahlul-Jihad and clarifying the errors of Jama’at ISIS’, Bilad Al-Sham Media, 5 July 2014. Accessed online at: https://biladalsham.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/clearing-the-accusations-against-ahlul-jihad-and-clarifying-the-errors-of-jamaat-isis/ on 5 March 2015

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

Belgian Fighters In Syria and Iraq – November 2014

By Pieter Van Ostaeyen

 

Some demographics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The networks and numbers:

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

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

Bismilahi Rahmani Rahim

Message to all those who want to come…

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

Group Affiliations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Map Belgian Jihadi's

(See map for details)

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

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

The areas where the Belgian contingent was or is active:

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

Addendum:  The Belgian “Convoy of Martyrs”:

(in random order)

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

NOTES:
____________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 ibidem

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

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

Update on the French Volunteers in Syria

By Stéphane Mantoux

The phenomenon of French jihad in Syria began to get media exposure in 2013, two years after the beginning of the revolution, the civil war, and the intervention of foreign fighters alongside insurgents. For France, the magnitude of the phenomenon is unprecedented, far exceeding the Iraqi or Afghan experience. Departures are accelerating since the summer of 2013 and did not appear to have been hampered by the conflict between the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JN). Persons involved in jihad have some commonalities, including radicalization via the Internet and social networks, but typical profile does not really exist for French jihadists: they are actually quite varied. With few exceptions, departures are not carried out by organized networks or veterans of radical Islam in France: they are often individual, spontaneous and so for the most unpredictable. The issue of the return of the French jihadists concerned authorities, and a first attempted attack on French soil has probably been thwarted in February 2014, being the fact this time of members of the baptized “Cannes-Torcy” cell. Faced with this painful problem, calls from families and concerns inside the population, the French government proposed, April 23, 2014, a plan to fight against departures in Syria that has not convinced many experts, answering probably to a need for communication on the subject. This is an update of my first article that will discusses the evolution of recruitment in France from February until early June 2014 : the building of a “family jihad“, the acceleration of recruitment with the formation of a French brigade in JN and probably within ISIS, and attempts by the French government to send signals more or less suitable for jihadists.

Family Jihad: women, children, but also girls in Syria

A new trend is linked to jihad in Syria phenomenon: the departure of girls. Anissa, 22, was converted under the influence of a friend of his school in Bordeaux. She married a young Muslim presented by an imam met on Skype and left a farewell letter to his mother. Dozens of French are affected by this phenomenon: Ly, 19, a student from Senegal, left with her baby of 15 months. She is accompanied by a schoolgirl, 17, of Epinay, who stole the credit card from her father to finance the trip1. At the same time, at the end of February 2014, a 14 year-old girl from Grenoble was arrested at the airport Lyon-Saint-Exupéry as she was about to fly to Istanbul. Placed in a home, she fled before being caught again the next day. This is the third minor at least trying to reach Syria in January 2014 after a 15 year old girl who managed to make it to Syria2. Nora, 16, has gone on January 23; her brother says she was manipulated by others and, in mid-March, she regrets her departure in Syria3. Her brother went once to bring her back in February4; he went to the Turkish border, he succeeded in a second attempt in April 2014 to go to Syria and to see his sister two times5. At the end of March, Barbara Marie Rigolaud, a French 35-year-old from Nanterre, was arrested by the PYD (Kurdish party that controls areas in north-northeast Syria) near Aleppo. She had joined JN after having belonged to ISIS. She arrived in Syria in May 2013 with her husband and four children6. Also in March 2014 the mother of Assia, the girl of 23 months led by his father since October 2013 in Syria, launched numerous calls for help. Sahra, a 17-year-old from Lézignan-Corbières (Aude, southwestern France), would have run away and joined Syria since March 11. She would be shipped to Marignane in a flight to Turkey. On March 14, she confirmed to her brother that she is in the Aleppo region. Sahra, who practiced Islam for at least one year, had apparently prepared her départure7. Along the same lines, a young schoolgirl, 16, with the dual French and Algerian nationalities, living in Troyes, is reported in Syria by his parents on April 8, 2014, radicalized only in few months. She would have received as Sahra a sum of money in cash by an intermediary to pay her travel8. She was stopped in Germany before she could reach Syria.

Ongoing recruitment in early 2014

France Info interviews in February 2014, two French who have gone to fight in Syria, Abu Chaak, 24, and Abu Dahuk, 26. They say they are from the Paris region, fighting in the Aleppo region and belong to ISIS. Dahuk is among the first French arrived in Syria at the beginning of 2013 ; he plans not to return to France to carry out attacks but to die as a “martyr” on Syrian soil9. In March, Seif al-Qalam, a young man of 27 who also comes from the Paris region, who fought for ISIS before joining JN (he arrived on site in July 2013 with his wife and children), claiming that the latter group includes a brigade composed entirely of French (a hundred men?) which he is part. That would be the French who have imposed this solution for reasons of linguistic understanding. These men want to fight in Syria and did take the fight to France if it had operations against them10. Mid-February, Bilel, a man with a degree in economics and volunteer firefighter in Grenoble, was killed in fighting in Homs. He had gone to Syria in July 2013 with his brother and several others French volunteers for jihad ; he was clearly radicalized after a breakup. There, he joined JN and takes the « nom de guerre » of Abu Al-Siddiq Tounsi11. 22 March 2014 a French national, Sylvain Decker, was arrested by Moroccan police in Rabat. He was part of a network of recruitment for jihad, particularly in Syria, who worked in both Spain and Morocco12. A draft of a terrorist attack due to a veteran Syrian Jihad is probably foiled in south-eastern France. The DCRI had discovered on 17 February 2014 900 grams of explosives in a building near Cannes, drop point for a member of the Cannes-Torcy cell arrested a few days earlier. The young man, Ibrahim B., had gone to Syria in September 2012, with two others, thus escaping the dragnet of the DCRI for the cell. Abdelkader T., one of the companions of Ibrahim, was arrested in Italy January 16, 2014. Ibrahim B. would have returned the same time in France, having fought as others in JN. On 11 February, he was arrested in the building where the explosives were discovered later13. At the end of April 2014 a young man in his twenties, claiming to be a former French soldier in a regiment of infantry paratroopers, is seen in a video posted on Youtube14. On April 30, the Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve indicates that 285 French are currently in Syria, and is concerned about an increase of 75% of the total in a few months. One hundred jihadists have returned to France and 5 were killed15. The next day, a 37 year old Algerian, regular resident in France, was expelled on suspicion of recruiting in France for jihad in Syria. He was arrested by Turkey on board a bus taking a group of French to Syria. He was close to two other men living in Savoie, like him, known to have participated in routing volunteers to Afghanistan and sentenced in February 201116.

The plan of the French government: a communication operation?

April 23, 2014, the French government unveiled a plan to fight against the departure of young people in Syria, including an attempt to ensure early detection of potential candidates for jihad. Finally, the plan provides a hotline of crisis for parents welcomed by professionals, and consider the reintroduction of the authorization to leave the country for minors (measure eventually discarded). Human intelligence and cyber security will be leveraged to identify individuals likely to radicalize17. However, for Wassim Nasr, a journalist specializing in jihadists, these measures come ten years too late. He does not believe in the effectiveness of the alert platform for parents. He also calls to treat the phenomenon as a criminal problem; and indeed, the profiles are varied, too many to be reduced to this assumption, especially since as he points out, all candidates initially do not necessarily have to return to France to carry out attacks. The problem is political, and linked to the position of the French State in Syrian conflict18. David Thomson, RFI journalist and author of a book on French jihadists published in March 201419, confirms that the profiles are very different. If the initial motivations are just as varied, jihad in Syria is unprecedented in modern history, for France, because of the access to the battlefield and the easy use of social networks. He explains how the first contingent of twenty French arrived from late 2011 and 2012, carried an air call via social networks and led to the mass influx that we see in particular in the past year. It also confirms that there is a brigade of French in JN. The link of the jihadists to social networks and different ways from those of previous jihad are the difficulty of preventing the phenomenon and even following it when the jihadists are returning on French soil. The only red line not to cross, according to him, is the threat of attacks on the national territory. At that time, the government intervenes, but prefers to otherwise monitor these social networks, or forums, because they are also intelligence sources. Besides the net of jihadists, who go through many social networks, is almost impossible to control. The only positive effect he sees in the government’s plan is the creation of a plan for parents, but a bit too late20. The government’s plan would therefore mainly be reported as a communication strategy after it has underestimated the problem in 2011 and may have preferred to see young volunteers fighting in Syria rather than to carry out attacks on French soil21. According to RTL, the platform for reporting jihad’s candidates registered 24 reportings, in ten days, in 16 departments: 8 women and 16 men, aged 14 to 34. 5 of these 16 people are actually going to Syria22.

For David Thomson, the French jihadists are leaving to assume a defensive jihad against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but also because they believe in the Muslim prophecies of the end times, the Apocalypse, to be held in Syria (land of Sham). There is no portrait type of French jihadist even if some are from disadvantaged neighborhoods of large cities, others come from the countryside and have never met a Muslim. Many are offenders, but not all, some being fully inserted into the social fabric. The only common denominator is the role of the Internet and social networks. These helped to streamline the message of jihad and extend it to a wider younger audience. Most of the jihadists become self-taught via the net23. The first French who have left in 2011-2012 went through the Maghreb, especially Tunisia, at a time when there was still no “network” organized. Today the route is more direct, via a flight to Turkey and supported at the border by the rebels, without necessarily routing of organized networks. There they find the French, as they are often recent converts, and can integrate, for example, the French brigade in JN where there are several important figures of the jihad media on social networks. The French who go seek above all to live in a land of “authentic” Islam or to die as a martyr. But some disappointed can leave, as it happened for two teenagers in Toulouse in January 2014. Women go for the same reasons, they do not fight even if they learn to use weapons like AK-47 to defend themselves. These women may marry a jihadist aspirant before leaving, are going in family if they are married long with one of them, or get a promise of marriage in Syria. Contrary to many rumors circulating on the web, there is no “sexual jihad” but a matrimonial jihad. For David Thomson, there is a difference between the French fighting with JN, which would favor for the moment the fight against the Syrian regime and a martyr’s death, and those of ISIS, considering for attacks on French soil24. For Gilles Keppel, this Salafism in France in some cities, such as Roubaix and other cities, reflects a “jihad of the poor“, with people often marked by the confusion between virtual world and real world. Often, family or local environment Salafi trend predates imprisonment. Finally, the cause of the Syrian jihad attracts to it a much wider audience, sometimes beyond the Muslim group, as also said David Thomson25.

13 May 2014, 6 jihadists returning from Syria were arrested in the neighborhood of Meinau, Strasbourg (one of the prominent places of the Syrian jihad recruitment and historical place of jihad in France) by DGSI with the support of RAID and GIPN. These arrests are aimed at young people of North African or Turkish origin who pretended to go on holiday to Dubai, via Germany, when in reality they joined training camps in southern Turkey26. This is probably a signal given by the French authorities to the jihadists, and according to an intelligence and terrorism specialist, it aims to discourage apprentice-radicalized jihadist vocations, and probably also to update the information available and identify patterns. These people were part of a group of a dozen who have gone to Syria in December 2013. Two brothers died in place27. In late May 2014, the French press revealed that Souad Merah, sister of Mohamed Merah, flew to Turkey with her four children to join her companion28.

At the beginning of June 2014, François Hollande announced that more than 30 French who have left to fight in Syria were killed29. Also in early June, the death of Chaquir Maaroufi30, alias Abu Shaheeed, a young French, 30, was announced and was a member of ISIS. He comes from Pyrenees-Atlantiques (southwestern France, near Pau). He went to Syria in the second half of 2013, probably via Morocco, where he had gone in 2011 after being convicted in France for criminal activities. Abu Shaheed was a figure of recruitment for the Syrian jihad on social networks.

Summary table of the official estimates provided by the French Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, then Bernard Cazeneuve (his successor) about French people who left in Syria (May 2013-May 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

April 2014

285

100

25

120

NOTES:

19 David THOMSON, Les Français jihadistes, Paris, Editions des Arènes, 2014.

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

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

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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.

Untitled

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.

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

Mogadishu (09/12/2011) – The visit by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to Mogadishu at this critical time in Somalia’s political situation is a futile attempt aimed at boosting the drained morale of the African Union soldiers in Somalia as well as their Kenyan counterparts whose forces have recently been bled dry militarily as well as economically by the Mujahideen.

And with the Kenyan invasion staggering to achieve its objectives, a declining public support, at home as well here as in Somalia, and an acute shortage of finances to maintain the military operation have led the Kenya Defence Force to pursue an alternative course of action; a marriage of convenience under AMISOM flag.

The decision taken by the Kenyan forces to operate under the African Union in Somalia stands as a true testament to the failure of the so-called Operation Linda Nchi whose real aim was to invade Somalia.

Having failed to receive the promised military and financial support, the Kenyan government opted to join the AU after an endorsement by the parliament, revealing their willingness to pursue every available avenue in their invasion and proving that the operation was not embarked on in response to the kidnapping of aid workers and tourists from Kenyan territory, as alleged, but rather to subjugate the people of Somalia in the regional scramble for the East African Horn.

The United Nations has also confirmed its full commitment to supporting the Kenyan invasion of Somalia and by funding Kenyan operations now under AMISOM, the UN has clearly demonstrated its contentment with the continuous air raids that target innocent civilians in Somalia; the latest being Thursday’s bombardment of Baardheere, Gedo reigion.

Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujahideen pledges to multiply its effort in order to counter the UN-sponsored terrorism that threatens the lives of millions of Somalis living in south and central Somalia and defend the sovereignty of our nation from the aggressive invasion of the allied foreign forces at all cost.

We hereby clarify that we do not recognize the United Nations, or any of its institutions and affiliates, as legitimate authorities to regulate or govern the affairs of our nation and we will not accept any compromise when it comes to our religion.

Press Office
Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen

________

Source: http://www.somalimemo.net/index.php/component/content/article/1-warar/127-for-immediate-release-harakat-al-shabaab-al-mujahideen-does-not-recognize-the-un-as-a-legitimate-authority

Saturday November 27:

Concerning Bomb Makers – Mr. Orange’s War Tracker: http://bit.ly/gYr4Mf

Sunday November 28:

Dehumanize or Understand Your Enemy? Choose One – Mark Stout, On War and Words: http://bit.ly/e4NPVu

Misinterpreting the “Insurgency” in Tajikistan – Christian Bleuer, Ghosts of Alexander: http://bit.ly/fKbQhh

Monday November 29:

AQAP v Huthi: This time, its personal – Brian O’Neill, Always Judged Guilty: http://bit.ly/fR8I47

Yemeni Intellectual Saeed al-Jamhi Ideologically Attacks al-Qaida – Youssef Aboul-Enein & D Corley, Small Wars Journal: http://bit.ly/dF1h3C

Tuesday November 30:

Promoting Jihad Against China: The Turkistani Islamic Party in Arabic Jihadist Media – Kirk H. Sowell: http://bit.ly/gkcYee

The al-Awlaki Debate Continues – Gregory D. Johnsen, Waq al-Waq: http://bit.ly/e0pc84

Wikileaks Questions – Gregory D. Johnsen, Waq al-Waq: http://bit.ly/iicvzU

Majahden vs. Shmukh Country statistics for November 2010 – Aaron Weisburd, The Internet Haganah: http://bit.ly/hxeM89

Wednesday December 1:

Al-Qaeda’s relations with the Taliban: An unhappy marriage? – Noman Benotman and James Brandon, Quilliam Foundation: http://bit.ly/g7zIeS

Thursday December 2:

Trial of Would-Be Assassin Illustrates al-Awlaki’s Influence on the British Jihad – Raff Pantucci, Terrorism Monitor: http://bit.ly/dLtTVI

The Salafist Challenge to al-Qaeda’s Jihad – Michael W. S. Ryan, Terrorism Monitor: http://bit.ly/eCrvct

Friday December 3:

Bin Laden’s Lonely Crusade – Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair: http://bit.ly/hdp0Lc

New CTC Sentinel is released: http://bit.ly/ihV5qz