Indications Al Qaeda is Planning an Attack Against the US

Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri

Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri

Blind Eagle, Brian Fairchild:

On September 4, 2014, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri announced the creation of a new al Qaeda organization called – Qaedat al Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent (QJIS).  The mission of the new affiliate is to consolidate the jihad movement in Kashmir, Bangladesh, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and India, an area that has heretofore been an operational backwater for al Qaeda.  This new al Qaeda organization is headed by Asim Umar, a former Pakistani Taliban commander, which may be the key to understanding this new development, and an indicator that Zawahiri is planning to attack the United States, and has the capability to do so.

The announcement comes at a time when Zawahiri’s ideological and operational leadership over the international jihad movement is being fundamentally challenged in an actual jihadi civil war between his Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Clashes between the Nusra Front and ISIS began in early 2013, but increased when al Baghdadi publicly claimed that the Nusra Front was part of ISIS and would be merged with it.  Al Nusra’s commander Abu Muhammad al Jawlani, however, refused to merge, and the dispute became increasingly violent.  Jawlani subsequently appealed to Zawahiri to arbitrate the conflict.  Zawahiri sided with al Nusra, and ordered al Baghdadi to dissolve ISIS and return to Iraq.

Al Baghdadi, however, dismissed Zawahiri’s ruling, routed al Nusra from the Syrian city of ar-Raqqa and took control of 80 percent of its foreign fighters.  ISIS then swept through Syria and Iraq taking control of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in the first few days of January 2014.  In February 2014, as a direct result of his insubordination and the brutality of his campaign, Zawahiri officially and publicly disowned ISIS.  In response, al Baghdadi disdainfully stated “I have to choose between the rule of God and the rule of Zawahiri, and I choose the rule of God”, and he continued his conquest.  He took Mosul in early June, and then, on June 29, 2014, he announced the creation of the Islamic “caliphate” naming himself as the new leader of all Muslims and calling for all jihad groups to obey him and gather under his banner, and he changed the name of his organization from ISIS to the Islamic State.

Al Baghdadi’s creation of the “caliphate” is central to understanding the degree to which he has undermined Zawahiri’s prestige and authority because it brings to fruition the goal that Zawahiri himself explicitly defined as vital for the success of the jihad movement, as illustrated in the following quote from his book Knights under the Prophet’s Banner, published in 2001:

  • “Armies achieve victory only when the infantry takes hold of land…the mujahid Islamic movement will not triumph against the world coalition unless it possesses an Islamist base in the heart of the Islamic world.  All the means and plans that we have reviewed for mobilizing the nation will remain up in the air without a tangible gain or benefit unless they lead to the establishment of the state of caliphate in the heart of the Islamic world.”[1]

That the prized “caliphate” was established by the very man he disowned is a tremendous loss of face to Zawahiri, and illustrates that this internecine war is not just a spat between jihad groups.  It is, fundamentally, a battle for the ideological leadership and operational direction of the entire international jihad movement.  In addition to the vital requirement to create a “caliphate”, Zawahiri believes that maintaining Muslim public support is paramount to the survival of the jihad movement, and thus, he rejects any actions that he believes would lose this support, such as rigidly forcing Sharia law on Muslims, conducting sectarian war against the Shia, and the public slaughter of prisoners.  Al Baghdadi, on the other hand, doesn’t care about Muslim public opinion, believes Muslims have no choice but to live under strict Sharia law, he actively foments sectarian war between the Sunni and Shia, and he frequently uses the slaughter of prisoners as a tactical and strategic weapon.

At present, al Baghdadi’s Islamic State, flush with money, manned by a flood of foreign fighters, bolstered by a string of military successes, and having realized the dream that Zawahiri has always called for – the establishment of the “caliphate”, is winning the civil war.

But Zawahiri’s problems do not stop there.  Not only is the Nusra Front losing, but there is also growing factionalism within the group that limits Zawahiri’s influence over it – one faction wants to rapidly increase the number of foreign fighters into the ranks without preconditions (i.e. accepting Zawahiri’s beliefs), while the other wants to limit such an expansion in order to ensure that all within the Nusra Front comply with Zawahiri’s policies; it also plans to establish an Islamic emirate in Syria to compete with al Baghdadi.

It gets worse for Zawahiri.  Nothing succeeds like success, and al Baghdadi’s string of successes has caused dissention and desertions in the ranks of Zawahiri’s heretofore loyal and key affiliates – al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  After the August 2014 American airstrikes against the Islamic State, AQAP pledged solidarity with it and vowed to conduct mass casualty attacks against the US in retaliation.  Since July 2014, the loyalty of AQIM’s leadership is reportedly split between Zawahiri and al Baghdadi.

Every success by the Islamic State, every pledge of allegiance by a jihad group to al Baghdadi, and every defection of a fighter from an al Qaeda affiliate to the IS, pushes Zawahiri further and further into irrelevancy within the jihad movement and on the world stage.  With all these challenges against him, it is surprising that the best response he could muster is the anemic announcement of a new affiliate that will work the backwaters of the jihad.  The timing of the announcement, too, is interesting.  Why now?  In the context of all his tribulations, neither the announcement nor its timing make much sense, unless there is another reason for the announcement, and another role for the new affiliate to play.

Certainly, as he contemplates ways to regain his leadership, it is not lost on Zawahiri that another successful attack on the American homeland, especially if that attack coincided with the anniversary of the historical 9/11 attacks perpetrated by him and Osama bin Laden, would restore his reputation and leadership.  For such a gambit to work, however, he would have to be able to claim credit for the attacks, and thus they would have to be conducted according to his direction and by an al Qaeda organization that he controls, which may be precisely why he announced the creation of QJIS at this particular moment.

The other al Qaeda organizations don’t meet this standard:

  • The leadership and operational capability of “core” al Qaeda has been significantly degraded over the years by incessant US drone attacks.
  • AQAP’s recent declaration of solidarity for Zawahiri’s Islamic State nemesis, and its independent threat to launch mass casualty attacks against the US, demonstrates his lack of control over this jihad group.
  • The major split in AQIM’s leadership over whether to support him or the Islamic State, removes AQIM as an operational platform for a Zawahiri attack scenario.
  • Al Nusra is factionalized and is out-gunned and out-manned by ISIS, and is fighting on three fronts: against the Assad regime, the Islamic State, and other opposition groups.

The only group Zawahiri has unquestioned control over at the present time is the one he just created – Qaedat al Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent (QJIS).  But, does this new affiliate have the capability to conduct such an attack?  The intelligence indicates that it is likely that QJIS has the capability because it was created from numerous jihad groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but, most significantly, from elements of the Tehrik-e Taliban (also known as TTP or Pakistani Taliban), a professional and experienced jihad group that Zawahiri is close to and has worked with for years.  Significantly, the man he installed as the new leader of QJIS is a former Pakistani Taliban commander named Asim Umar, who Zawahiri has groomed for the position over the past couple of years.  In 2013, Umar went on the record supporting Zawahiri’s desire to attack the US by proclaiming to his Muslim audience:

“Rise! Awaken! Participate in this global jihad to give a final push to the collapsing edifice of America.”

The Pakistani Taliban is experienced and operationally competent, and has an especially close relationship with Zawahiri and “core” al Qaeda.  On September 1, 2010, the State Department described the close relationship when it declared the Pakistani Taliban and two of its senior leaders as Specially Designated Global Terrorists:

  • TTP and al-Qa’ida have a symbiotic relationship; TTP draws ideological guidance from al-Qa’ida, while al-Qa’ida relies on TTP for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border. This mutual cooperation gives TTP access to both al-Qa’ida’s global terrorist network and the operational experience of its members. Given the proximity of the two groups and the nature of their relationship, TTP is a force multiplier for al-Qa’ida.

Most significantly, the Pakistani Taliban, in cooperation with Zawahiri, has already conducted operations against the US.  It controlled and trained the double-agent that conducted the 2009 suicide bombing of the CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, and it trained and directed Faisal Shahzad to conduct the Times Square bombing on May 1, 2010.

Zawahiri certainly has the intent to attack the United States as documented in the Summer 2014 issue of his official jihad magazine, Azan, which stated:

  • The reestablishment of the Khilafah (Caliphate) in the Muslim world is only achievable once America has been degraded to the point when it can no longer meddle in the affairs of Muslims.[2]…Due to the attacks by the Mujahideen…and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is now on a slippery slope to collapse…The strategy of attacking US interests has worked and needs to continue for the foreseeable future until its strength has been reduced to a state in which it will be unable to support the Tawagheet (corrupt Muslim regimes) that rule the Muslim lands.[3] 

Absent specific actionable intelligence, it is impossible to state with certainty when any terrorist attack will occur.  The above analysis, however, documents Zawahiri’s increasingly poor strategic situation and his humiliation by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and reveals that an attack on the United States, on or near the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, would likely counter al Baghdadi’s challenge to Zawahiri and reverse the degradation of his leadership and relevancy.  It also reveals that it is likely Zawahiri has the capability to conduct and take credit for such an attack via the creation of QJIS and its absorption of Pakistani Taliban elements.  Another factor not included in the above analysis that likely motivates Zawahiri to attack, is the likelihood that al Baghdadi is planning such attacks (see the detailed report on this topic).  If al Baghdadi successfully conducts attacks in the United States while Zawahiri sits on the sidelines, Zawahiri’s demise as the leader of the international jihad movement will be assured.

[1] Zawahiri, Ayman, Knights under the Prophet’s Banner, London al Sharq al Awsat, 2001, p. 63

[2] Azan Magazine, The Rise and Fall of America, Summer 2014, p. 13

[3] Azan Magazine, p. 15

Brian Fairchild bio.

Al Qaeda Announces New Branch and Bid for Own Caliphate

Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri

Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri


Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has announced the opening of a new branch targeting India, Bangladesh and Burma in a videotape release. He did not mention the Islamic State (formerly ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), but his announcement could be interpreted as an attempt to demonstrate Al Qaeda’s viability as it is being eclipsed by the Islamic State.

Zawahiri, who is thought to be hiding in Pakistan, said that it took Al Qaeda two years to merge its associated forces into this new branch. Tellingly, he said that the new branch, named Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent (QJIS), would be loyal to Taliban chief Mullah Omar.

QJIS is led by a Pakistani commander of Al Qaeda named Asim Umar. His official position in Al Qaeda is chief of the group’s Sharia Committee in Pakistan. He is also a Pakistani Taliban commander.

Zawahiri named Ustad Usama Mahmoud as the spokesperson for QJIS.

He emphasized that the group’s goal is to “Establish sharia in the land and to free the occupied land of Muslims in the Indian sub-continent.”

The jihad is not fundamentally about territorial disputes. Indian control of Kashmir, the crackdown on Islamists by the Bangladeshi government and the dictatorship of Burma are road blocks standing in the way of this greater objective of sharia governance. Al Qaeda takes up these political causes as a means to this end.

Zawahiri called on Muslims to help QJIS create a caliphate. He describes its mission statement as “to call the ummah [Muslim world] to unite round the word of Tawhid [monotheism], to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty, and to revive its Caliphate.”

This is an important detail. The Islamic State’s pitch is that it is an established caliphate and the one with the best chance of a success. Zawahiri is showing that Al Qaeda is also pro-caliphate and is suggesting the Indian subcontinent as an alternative starting point.

Read more at Clarion Project

Also see:

Al Qaeda opens branch in the ‘Indian Subcontinent’


In the video, Umar called on Indian Muslims to participate in the “global jihad to give a final push to the collapsing edifice of America.”

By Bill Roggio:

Al Qaeda has announced the establishment of a new branch, called “Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent.” The group reports to Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghan Taliban, and is led by a former commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan who also served as a sharia official in al Qaeda’s branch in Pakistan. The ultimate goal of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent is the same as al Qaeda’s: to establish a global caliphate and impose sharia, or Islamic law.

As Sahab, al Qaeda’s official media outlet, released a lengthy video promoting the creation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent today. The video, which was published on various Internet video sites, including YouTube, features Ayman al Zawahiri as well as Asim Umar, the new emir of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, and Usama Mahmoud, the group’s spokesman. The video was translated by the SITE Intelligence group.

“A new branch of al-Qaeda was established and is Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent, seeking to raise the flag of jihad, return the Islamic rule, and empowering the Shariah of Allah across the Indian subcontinent,” Zawahiri says in the opening of the video, according to the translation by SITE.

Zawahiri says the group was years in the making, contains “soldiers of the Islamic Emirate” (a reference to the Afghan Taliban), and ultimately reports to Mullah Omar.

“This entity was not established today, but it is the fruit of a blessed effort for more than two years to gather the mujahideen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity to be with the main group, Qaedat al-Jihad, from the soldiers of the Islamic Emirate and its triumphant emir, Allah permitting, Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid,” Zawahiri says. Zawahiri renewed his oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar in a statement that was released in July of this year. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda renews its oath of allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar.]

“It is an entity that was formed to promulgate the call of the reviving imam Sheikh Usama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him, to call the Ummah to unite round the word of Tawhid [monotheism], to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty, and to revive its Caliphate,” Zawahiri continues in the video.

Zawahiri says the group will defend the “vulnerable in the Indian subcontinent, in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujurat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir …” and “your brothers in Qaedat al-Jihad did not forget you and that they are doing what they can to rescue you from injustice, oppression, persecution, and suffering.”

Read more at Long War Journal

Also see:

Analysis: Al Qaeda attempts to undermine new Islamic State with old video of Osama bin Laden


On July 13, Al Qaeda’s As Sahab posted this video of Osama bin Laden from the summer of 2001 on its Twitter feed.


On July 13, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, As Sahab, tweeted a link to an old video of Osama bin Laden. Judging by markers in the video, including bin Laden’s reference to the USS Cole bombing taking place “nine months ago” (al Qaeda attacked the Cole on Oct. 12, 2000), it appears the video was recorded in the middle of 2001.

The first part of bin Laden’s lecture focuses on standard al Qaeda themes, including the war against America. In all likelihood, that is not why al Qaeda posted this particular video of bin Laden now. Instead, al Qaeda is attempting to use the video to counter the Islamic State, which has been disowned by al Qaeda’s senior leadership, and its newly announced caliphate.

“Today, with the grace of Allah, we are redrawing the map of the Islamic world to become one state under the banner of the caliphate,” bin Laden says.

The deceased al Qaeda leader goes on to explain that the Prophet Mohammed found that certain “pillars” were required to build a “strong Islamic State.”

As Sahab is advertising the video of bin Laden with this banner. A similar banner is being featured on a number of jihadist sites, including at the top of the Shumukh al Islam forum.

As Sahab is advertising the video of bin Laden with this banner. A similar banner is being featured on a number of jihadist sites, including at the top of the Shumukh al Islam forum.

“The Prophet spent 13 years in Mecca searching for these pillars: a strong group, obedience and respect, immigration, and jihad,” bin Laden says, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. Mohammed “was on a quest to find these four things,” bin Laden continues. “He wanted to find a strong group that is willing to carry our jihad — those two demands are complementary — and be obedient and respectful. He found these four pillars after 13 years.”

A few sentences later, bin Laden adds: “Those who move from east to west, claiming that they want to establish God’s sharia but do not want to establish the prerequisites and pillars and do not want to tolerate the suffering of finding a group, obeying their leaders, migrating, and carrying out jihad are ignorant and unaware of the Prophet’s doctrine.”

The implied critique of the Islamic State and its announced caliphate, which covers parts of Syria and Iraq, is obvious. When viewed through bin Laden’s testimony, the Islamic State has not built the “pillars” necessary for a caliphate, especially when it comes to “obeying their leaders.”

Indeed, bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, has covered this issue in his messages addressing the Islamic State’s history. As Sahab released two messages from Zawahiri concerning the Islamic State in May. “Listen to and obey your emir once again,” Zawahiri says when addressing Baghdadi in the first message. “Come back to what your sheikhs, emirs, and those who preceded you on the path and immigration of jihad have worked hard for.” In both of his messages in May, Zawahiri builds a case against Baghdadi, showing that the Islamic State’s self-appointed “caliph” was once Zawahiri’s subordinate. Therefore, by accusing Baghdadi of being disobedient towards his leader, Zawahiri was also accusing him of ignoring one of the “pillars” necessary for building a true Islamic State.

Al Qaeda’s charge against Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s group could extend further, given that one of the pillars mentioned by bin Laden requires a jihadist group to be “obedient and respectful.” Other jihadist groups and ideologues whose beliefs are not all that different from the Islamic State’s have repeatedly accused Baghdadi’s group of being disrespectful towards anyone who disagrees with its attempted power grab. The disagreements have even led to vicious infighting between jihadists in Syria.

Bin Laden goes on to recount, in brief, the history of al Qaeda’s relations with the Taliban. The Taliban “allowed us to establish training camps on their land, regardless of all the international pressure against them,” bin Laden says. “They are also helping us in our preparations and training although they know that we are preparing to strike the United States of America.” This statement is interesting because there has long been a debate over how the Taliban viewed such attacks. And this is further evidence that bin Laden was loose-lipped prior to the 9/11 attacks, upsetting some of his co-conspirators who wanted to maintain the utmost secrecy.

An audience member asks bin Laden about his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s emir. And bin Laden’s response likely has bearing on Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s claim to be the rightful caliph.

“My pledge of allegiance to the Emir of the Believers [Mullah Omar] is the great pledge of allegiance, which is mentioned in the chapters of the Koran and the stories of the Sunnah,” bin Laden says. “Every Muslim should set his mind and heart and pledge allegiance to the Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar for this is the great pledge.”

The Islamic State’s announced caliphate attempts to usurp the power and authority of all other jihadist groups, including the Taliban, by demanding that they swear bayat to the new caliph. This has drawn criticism from highly influential jihadist ideologues such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, as well as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Bin Laden argues that Mullah Omar was deserving of such a pledge, and the implication of his testimony is that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is not.

Bin Laden cites Muhammad Bin Abd al Wahhab, the 18th century Islamic leader, as saying: ”When a man is in charge of a country and the scholars in this country accept his ruling, then his ruling as an emir of the believers is legitimate.” Bin Laden says that Mullah Omar has satisfied this requirement, claiming that “more than 1,500 scholars [have] pledged” their allegiance to Omar. Therefore, bin Laden argues, “it is the duty of everyone to pledge allegiance to him.”

Read more at Long War Journal

A Failure of Policy





Forty-one recently declassified State Department documents obtained by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, have reignited the controversy over the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Ben-ghazi, Libya. One document in particular, an email authored by Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and speechwriter for the president, has garnered the most attention.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Friday, September 14, 2012, Rhodes emailed other administration officials as they prepared for U.N. ambassador Susan Rice’s upcoming appearance on the Sunday morning talk shows. Rhodes’s email set forth four goals, the second of which was “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” The video in question was an Internet trailer for Innocence of Muslims. The email from Rhodes also repeated an erroneous talking point: “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Ben-ghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.”

As officials soon learned, however, there never were any “demonstrations” in Ben-ghazi—only a deadly attack launched by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. For this reason, some have viewed the protests elsewhere and the attack in Benghazi as being distinct. That is a mistake.

As the newly established House select committee investigating Ben-ghazi moves forward with its work, it should look carefully at the events that transpired in Cairo, Tunis, Yemen, and elsewhere. In each case, known al Qaeda actors or their allies helped spark the protests. And in each instance they used the anti-Islam video as a pretext for inciting anti-American, pro-al Qaeda rage.

Dissent in the Ranks

ISIL fighters / AP

ISIL fighters / AP

By Bill Gertz:

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri issued a public appeal recently urging an ultra-violent splinter faction of the terrorist group to return to Iraq and cease fighting rebels of the al Nusra Front, the official al Qaeda franchise in Syria.

In an audio statement posted to a jihadist online forum May 2, Zawahiri called for ending the “bloodshed among mujahedeen” in Syria, where rebels have been battling each other over who controls the opposition forces battling Syrian forces of the Bashar al Assad government.

The split between the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) and al Qaeda central is viewed by analysts as a result of the central leadership seeking to develop a broader appeal in seeking recruits.

The ISIL, on the other hand, has taken an ultra-fanatical approach to jihad. The group has filmed gruesome executions and beheadings of its opponents in Syria. In some cases, ISIL rebels were shown eating the organs of recently killed Syrian soldiers.

The infighting between the ISIL and the al Nusra Front for the past year appears to have achieved something that more than a decade of U.S. and allied military counterterrorism operations has been unable to do: splitting the al Qaeda terrorist group and weakening its ideological and militant appeal.

In Syria, fierce battles among the al Qaeda rebels have resulted in killings of scores of jihadists and the assassination of several of its leaders.

The Obama administration, by refusing to conduct military operations against al Qaeda in Syria, has made the embattled Middle Eastern state an al Qaeda safe haven, according to observers.

In the statement, Zawahiri called on ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to stop fighting in Syria and return to Iraq and described Baghdadi as “al Qaeda’s rebellious solider” who has caused bloodshed among the jihadist rebels in Syria.

Zawahiri, in the 24-minute message, also called on the official affiliate, al Nusra Front, to halt fighting against the ISIL rebels.

Referring to the ISIL rebels as engaging in “sedition,” Zawahiri explained that al Qaeda initially sanctioned the ISIL temporarily but sought to keep al Qaeda’s presence in Syria a secret. That was violated when the group went public with its formation in 2013.

Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, said the ISIL was set up in 2013 without permission of the central al Qaeda leadership.

Read more at Free Beacon

Islamic State In Iraq And Syria (ISIS) Forces Poll Tax (Jizya) On Christians Of Al-Raqqa/Syria

Fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq & al-Sham (ISIS) march in Raqqa, Syria. AP Photo/militant website, FileFighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq & al-Sham (ISIS) march in Raqqa, Syria.

Fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq & al-Sham (ISIS) march in Raqqa, Syria. AP Photo/militant website, FileFighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq & al-Sham (ISIS) march in Raqqa, Syria.


The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which controls the city of Al-Raqqa, announced that it had signed a “Security” pact with the Christian residents of Al-Raqqa in return for their embracing the laws of dhimma – protection. In a statement dated February 23, 2014, that ISIS published in the city, the organization said that it posed three alternatives to Christians who had fled Al-Raqqa, but now sought to return:

  1. Convert to Islam
  2. Accept the conditions of dhimma
  3. Reject these offers and face war

The statement claimed the agreement to sign the pact was reached at a meeting between representatives of ISIS and the Christian community.

The pact’s wording and clauses follow dhimma pacts made by medieval Islamic states, with a few modifications that take consideration of modern developments, such as the ban on using megaphones to broadcast prayers. The text opens with a polemic against Christianity, quoting Quranic verses claiming Islam’s superiority over Christianity and the veracity of Islamic theological positions.

It then states: “This is the protection that Abdallah Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the commander of the faithful, granted the Christians of Al-Raqqa. He granted security to their lives, their property, their churches and their progeny in Al-Raqqa. Their churches and their surroundings will not be destroyed or harmed, nor will their property. They will not be coerced with regard to their religion [i.e. they will not be forced to convert to Islam], and none of them will be harmed.”

The pact incorporates the following restrictions on the Christians:

  1. They are forbidden to build new churches or rebuild destroyed ones.
  2. They must not showcase crosses or religious books, and they are forbidden to use megaphones to broadcast their prayers.
  3. They must not read their books out loud in front of Muslims or sound their bells.
  4. They must not carry out any hostile actions against ISIS, or provide refuge to spies or persons wanted by ISIS. They must inform ISIS of any “conspiracy” against it.
  5. They must refrain from any display of worship outside their church.
  6. They may not prevent any member of their community from converting to Islam.
  7. They must honor Islam and the Muslims, and not offend their religion in any way.
  8. The Christians committed to pay a poll tax of “4 golden dinars” i.e. 17 grams of gold for the wealthy, 8.5 for middle income owners, and half of that for the poor.
  9. They are forbidden to carry weapons.
  10. They are forbidden to sell pork or wine to the Muslims or publicly consume them.
  11. They must comply with any additional restrictions that ISIS may impose on their dress, trade or other matters.

In conclusion ISIS stated that as long as the Christians comply with these restrictions they will be protected. If they violate them, they will be treated as enemies at war.

See photos of the pact at MEMRI

A report by John Rossomando at IPT states that although Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has disowned ISIS, this dhimma pact bears the al Qaeda stamp.

Zawahiri’s Representative in Syria Assassinated

Pro-al Qaeda Saudi cleric calls on ISIS members to defect

Sheikh Muhaysini praised Ayman al Zawahiri as the Sheikh of the Mujahideen on his popular Twitter feed shortly after al Qaeda's general command disowned ISIS. Muhaysini also praised Osama bin Laden with the same language. Muhaysini called on ISIS members to defect.

Sheikh Muhaysini praised Ayman al Zawahiri as the Sheikh of the Mujahideen on his popular Twitter feed shortly after al Qaeda’s general command disowned ISIS. Muhaysini also praised Osama bin Laden with the same language. Muhaysini called on ISIS members to defect.

By THOMAS JOSCELYN, February 3, 2014:

Not long after al Qaeda’s general command yesterday disowned the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), a popular Saudi cleric who has relocated to Syria took to his social media sites to call on ISIS members to defect.

Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini played a leading role in the mediation efforts between ISIS and other rebel groups, which have been increasingly fighting among themselves. But now that those efforts have failed, Muhaysini says on his popular Twitter feed, ISIS members should defect to the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic Front.

The Al Nusrah Front is now al Qaeda’s only official branch inside Syria. The al Qaeda-linked Ahrar al Sham is one of the most powerful groups within the Islamic Front, which is a coalition of rebel groups. Abu Khalid al Suri, Zawahiri’s main representative in Syria, is a senior leader in Ahrar al Sham.

Muhaysini’s call for ISIS defectors has quickly become popular on Twitter, with many online jihadists and their supporters retweeting his message. This is not surprising, as the Saudi has a substantial online presence. His Twitter feed currently has almost 280,000 followers.

Now that al Qaeda’s senior leadership has publicly disavowed ISIS, the calls from Muhaysini and other respected jihadists will challenge ISIS to maintain its base of support. ISIS has committed followers, but senior jihadists are now attempting to roll back its influence.

Other influential ideologues have endorsed Zawahiri while rejecting ISIS

Muhaysini cites ideological bigwigs such as Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, both of whom are imprisoned in Jordan, to support his anti-ISIS effort. All three have said that ISIS should have obeyed Ayman al Zawahiri’s orders. In May of last year, Zawahiri ordered ISIS to disband its Islamic state and focus its efforts inside Iraq, while leaving the fight for Syria to the Al Nusrah Front and other groups. ISIS openly defied this order.

Abu Qatada is the well-known al Qaeda cleric who was detained on and off again in the UK for years before finally being deported to his native country in July 2013. He is currently on trial in Jordan on terrorism charges.

Abu Qatada is best known for his ties to a constellation of al Qaeda actors inside Europe, including the terrorists responsible for the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings. Since his return to Jordan, Abu Qatada has become an active voice in the jihadists’ online world from his prison cell. He has, for example, written to Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, which is led by one of his former pupils, Seifallah Ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi).

Late last month, Abu Qatada issued a harsh rebuke of ISIS during a break in his trial. The cleric said ISIS was “ignoring instructions” from Ayman al Zawahiri and would “disintegrate eventually,” according to the Associated Press.

Abu Qatada also explained that ISIS fighters had been “misled to fight a war that is not holy,” which is likely a reference to the infighting ISIS has sparked.

Baghdadi is the emir of ISIS and has delusions of grandeur, considering himself to be the rightful ruler over a large Islamic state covering Iraq and the Levant. Al Qaeda’s senior leaders never approved of Baghdadi’s decision to declare an Islamic state, and instead focused their efforts on the fight against Bashar al Assad’s forces.

Read more at Long War Journal

Also see:

State Department spokesperson mischaracterizes al Qaeda


Yesterday, State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf made two ridiculous claims about al Qaeda during a briefing with reporters. First, she claimed that there are no “operational” links between al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and jihadist groups in Syria. And second, she said that Zawahiri is the only remaining member of “core” al Qaeda. From the briefing[emphasis ours]:

QUESTION: Okay. And then, secondly, there were some reports that Ayman Zawahiri has recorded another message – it’s on militant websites – telling militants to unite in Syria. Are you aware of these and do you have any response?MS. HARF: I haven’t seen it. I think – a few points: Obviously, we are concerned about the terrorist threat in Syria. We’re concerned about al-Qaida affiliated elements from taking advantage of the situation there to conduct terrorist attacks. I haven’t, quite frankly, seen the Zawahiri message. Did you say it was an audio message?


MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll take a look or a listen to that when I get back.

And look, this is not new rhetoric we’ve heard from Zawahiri. He’s – core al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, besides Zawahiri, has essentially the entire leadership been decimated by the U.S. counterterrorism efforts. He’s the only one left. I think he spends, at this point, probably more time worrying about his own personal security than propaganda, but still is interested in putting out this kind of propaganda to remain relevant.

So we’ve seen al-Qaida in the past try to take advantage for propaganda purposes of local – of conflicts in places like Iraq, places like Yemen, and places like Syria, to use that for propaganda purposes. But beyond that, I don’t know of more of an operational link between Zawahiri and folks in Syria.

QUESTION: So you’re not seeing any kind of operational command and control between core al-Qaida and what the militants in Syria –

MS. HARF: I’ll check with our folks. Not to my knowledge. But again, I want to check with our team just to make sure what the exact – on operational. We certainly know that elements in Syria take – al-Qaida elements in Syria take inspiration from folks like Zawahiri and from some of the language that we hear from him, and that, I’m sure, it’s the same kind of language that’s on this audio that I will take a look at when I get off the podium.

But beyond that, again, we’ve been very clear that because of the Assad regime’s climate it’s created in Syria, we are increasingly concerned about the terrorist threat. Certainly.

First, Harf claims that there is no “operational link between Zawahiri and folks in Syria.” There is plenty of evidence demonstrating that this isn’t true.

Zawahiri stepped into the leadership dispute between the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) last year. He demanded that the leaders of both organizations file a report with him. They each complied. He then issued a ruling in late May that ISIS and its emir, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, disagreed with and openly defied. The dispute with ISIS is more nuanced than most analysts let on, but it is obviously a very serious disagreement. (We have covered this in-depth, and will have more on this in the near future.)

Read more at Long War Journal


Al Qaeda head addresses infighting in Syria

download (57)By THOMAS JOSCELYN:

The emir of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, has released a new audio message addressing the infighting between jihadist groups in Syria. Zawahiri does not mention any specific groups or individuals by name, but much of his message is clearly aimed at the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), a branch of al Qaeda that has been the main source of the internecine conflict.

Zawahiri addresses all of the jihadist factions fighting against Bashar al Assad’s regime, saying they are the best “hope” for establishing an Islamic state in the heart of the Levant, as well as “liberating Jerusalem,” according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.

Al Qaeda respects and admires “all of you,” Zawahiri says, addressing all of the factions as “brothers.” According to Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s leaders believe that the jihadists’ “brotherhood in Islam” is stronger than any temporary “organizational bonds.”

Zawahiri implores the jihadists to “let go” of their “partisan fanaticism” if it cuts against the “unity of your ranks.” The infighting distracts them from fighting their true enemies, including Shiite forces, Russia, and China, all of whom are supposedly colluding with the “Crusader campaign.”

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and other ISIS leaders have claimed to represent the only true Islamic state inside Syria and have tried to make other jihadist groups abide by its rules. However, other jihadist groups, including al Qaeda’s other official branch inside Syria, the Al Nusrah Front, as well as al Qaeda-linked groups such as Ahrar al Sham, have rejected ISIS’ claims of superiority.

Although Zawahiri does not address ISIS directly, at least three parts of the audio message seem to be targeted at the unruly group.

First, Zawahiri says that al Qaeda does not accept “any violation” or “any assault” against the “sanctity of any Muslim or jihadist.” Al Qaeda also does “not accept” the accusations of “infidelity or apostasy” that have been levied against some jihadist groups, because they are all “sacrificing their lives and properties” for the sake of jihad.

ISIS has repeatedly accused other jihadist organizations of being apostates or infidels, especially when they do not accept the group’s unilateral decisions.

Read more at Long War Journal

Egypt’s Trial: True Justice will Reveal Morsi’s Alliances


On Monday, November 4th, an Egyptian Triple Seven elite military force helicopter transported former Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, out of secret hiding where he has been held in custody by authorities since July 3rd this year.  Morsi was flown to a courtroom inside Toro Police School to begin his trial for high treason and other suspected crimes. On the eve of his political career and presidential candidacy, Morsi sat in prison awaiting trial for spying against Egypt. Now he is accused of continuing these efforts during his presidency.

According to Egyptian news agencies, Morsi recently notified his family that he alone will defend himself before the judge and jury. Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood organizations across the world scramble to bring to Egypt lawyers from the West and East who will try to prove that Morsi is blameless and his trial unfair. This will not be easy. Egyptian attorneys are unified against foreign attorneys appearing in the courtroom on Morsi’s behalf.  In any case, proving Morsi’s innocence will be a herculean task.

In a country where no regulation or law exists to govern taping of conversations or, more aptly, where the Attorney General appointed by the President permitted secret recordings by Egyptian intelligence of the President’s meetings and phone conversations, judges dismissed by Morsi and now reinstated will be presented with tape recordings of Morsi’s discussions with Aymen Al Zawahiri of Al Qaeda.

These will show Morsi requesting the terrorist’s support. Morsi’s negotiation with the Al Qaeda leader delays application of the Iran and Taliban models for Egypt until a more receptive time and, in return for Al Zawahiri’s favor, the President agrees to immediately enforce Sharia law and release five thousand jailed terrorist-jihadists, including Aymen’s brother, Mohammed. All jihadists jailed under Mubarak were freed by Morsi within the first month of his installation to prove to Aymen Al Zawahiri that he could be trusted, according to leaked information paraphrasing the contents of the tapes.

Read more: Family Security Matters 

Zawahiri’s Latest Message: Please Listen To Me Jihadis, Stop Bickering

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Posted by Clint Watts:

While it’s not uncommon to see Ayman al-Zawahiri wagging his finger in a quarterly or semi-annual propaganda video spewing the usual anti-American rhetoric, it is unusual to see al Qaeda leaders issuing guidance and directives to subordinates in publicly available guidelines.  As-Sahab Media, an al Qaeda media outlet, recently released Zawahiri’s “General Guidelines for Jihad” in both Arabic and English. Zawahiri has issued public edicts to followers before, but this latest installment feels quite different and its delivery and content suggests several changes and tensions that may be afoot inside al Qaeda global organization.

First, let’s explore why Zawahiri would issue public rather than private guidance to the global jihadi community. Normally, al Qaeda might broadcast strategic vision publicly, but reserve directives and corrective guidance via secure communications.  The most famous intercept of these private communications comes from Zawahiri’s 2006 scolding of abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi for counterproductive violence against Shia in Iraq.  In addition, the Harmony documents provide countless other examples of al Qaeda’s internal directives and squabbles.  More recently some private communications to jihadi groups in Syria have allegedly surfaced showing dissatisfaction between Zawahiri and al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Al Qaeda, like most any terrorist organization, normally delivers these messages in private for several reasons:

  1. Airing internal squabbles publicly hurts the organization’s popular support and certain leader’s authority,
  2. Public messaging can reveal strategy and orders to adversaries (counterterrorists) enabling their efforts to defeat the terrorist organization, and
  3. Such messaging can, at times, severely reduce the security and success of al Qaeda affiliates.

In short, this message went public because Zawahiri’s guidance isn’t being followed. Al Qaeda Central messages and directives either can’t get to affiliates or they are being ignored.  Both scenarios are problematic for the terror group.

Second, the content of Zawahiri’s guidelines goes beyond grand vision instructing individual jihadis on what exactly to avoid.  Previous messages, whether from Bin Laden, Zawahiri or even Anwar al-Awlaki, have given rather broad suggestions to jihadis such as go to “Jihad in country fill in the blank” or “Do-Jihad-At-Home”. But Zawahiri’s latest guidelines suggest something more specific.  Today, he doesn’t seem to be speaking to the global jihadi movement as a whole but instead communicating directly to jihadis enmeshed in affiliates engaged in battles across North Africa and the Middle East.  Zawahiri writes,

We call upon the heads of all groups and organizations that work under Qaidatul Jihad Organization (al Qaida) and all our supporters and sympathizers to spread these guidelines amongst their followers, whether in positions of responsibility or ordinary individuals; for this document contains no hidden secrets, rather it is a general policy guideline.

I can’t recall one paragraph in any al Qaeda document that reveals as much as this one.

Read more at FPRI

New Evidence Ties Ousted Morsi Government to Al-Qaeda

by Raymond Ibrahim:

Days before the ousting of former Egyptian President Morsi, an Arabic-language report had said that, “al-Qaeda, under the leadership of Muhammad Zawahiri [brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri and a leader of al-Qaeda in Sinai], is currently planning reprisal operations by which to attack the army and the Morsi-opposition all around the Republic [of Egypt].”

Muhammad Zawahiri and Muhammad Morsi: Two faces, one goal

That, of course, happened—and in a dramatic fashion, especially the attacks on the Christian Copts, who were scapegoated by the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. Indeed, hours before Morsi was ousted, Muhammad Zawahiri had declared that al-Qaeda would wage a jihad to save Morsi and his Islamization agenda for Egypt, adding that:

[I]f matters reach a confrontation, then to be sure, that is in our favor—for we have nothing to lose. And at all times and places where chaos reigns, it’s often to the jihad’s advantage…. for we sold our souls to Allah”—a reference to Koranic verses like 9:111—“and welcome the opportunity to fight to the death.”

Now, a new report confirms that, back when Morsi was still president, Muhammad Zawahiri had been arrested and was being interrogated—only to be ordered released by a presidential order form Morsi. He then fled to the Sinai, where al-Qaeda is stationed, not to mention where Morsi had reportedly earlier summoned thousands of foreign jihadis to come to his aid whenever necessary.

All of which has come to pass, including the fact that many of those eventually arrested for committing acts of violence in Egypt were not even Egyptian, as was clearly demonstrated by their Arabic dialects.

Thus, once again, we see that the differences between the “largely secular” Muslim Brotherhood—in the words of the U.S. director of national intelligence—and “terroristic” al-Qaeda are actually “largely semantic.”

Jihadist Ideology: The Core Texts


From The Westminster Institute:

Together these texts reveal not only the ideological foundation for jihad but also the strategy and tactics.  Dr. Sebastian Gorka provides an overview of these core texts, including their history, evolution and application.  Familiarity with and understanding of these texts is essential for anyone engaged in counter-terrorism, from the policymaker to the investigator to the street cop. These four texts have come to be recognized as constituting a canon in jihadist thinking:

Sayyid Qutb Milestones

Abdullah Azzam Defense of the Muslim Lands

S. K. Malik The Quranic Concept of Power

Ayman Al-Zawahiri Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner


This paper is the transcript of a briefing given by Dr. Gorka at the Westminster Institute on October 5th, 2010.

Listen to Audio at the link provided 

The Enemy Has a Plan

The message of my presentation is a simple one.  Firstly, if you want to understand the enemy, as one British policeman put it, “Read what they say.” These individuals are not shy, they like the limelight.  The CIA’s Open Source Center, for example, has compiled a huge unclassified collection of what Osama bin Laden has said over the years.  Anyone who wants to can read it.

Secondly, we must understand al Qaeda not as something that was created by bin Laden simply on the foundations of the Arab Mujahedeen movement.  Rather, Al Qaeda is the product of decades of ideological evolution that started with the Muslim Brotherhood. You could even argue it is in fact the product of centuries of ideological and conceptual evolution going back to the 10th and 11th centuries, to authors such as Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) and even to the Asharites.  But we will focus here on 20th century developments.  The point is that you must be able to place al Qaeda in the context of this larger ideological flow.

Thirdly, and this is really tough for government officials and for people who like the kinetic stuff–hunting people down, chasing high value targets– we must stop obsessing on violent jihad, al Qaeda’s (AQ) kinetic strain of warfare. I have built my career on this foe, on understanding and explaining Al Qaeda.  However, AQ does not keep me awake at night any longer.  I am not afraid of another 9/11.  Rather, I am afraid of AQ’s soft jihadist colleagues, those who will not use violence, but organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), who use legal tools, economic tools, and lawfare–law as a weapon–to undermine our constitutional order.  That is by far the more difficult threat for us to deal with because our national security establishment is not geared towards this indirect sort of warfare and because we have not yet woken up to the seriousness of this threat.  But we have to remember one thing, and this is my fourth point. Both bin Laden, both AQ and organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood have the same objective.  They simply use different tools to arrive there. They both wish sharia compliance on the United States, a wiping away of the U.S. Constitution and the creation of a global Caliphate.  They are on the same team; they simply use different tools to win their fight.

In the next 40 minutes I am going to work through some of the most important ideologues in the enemy’s camp and give you some insights as to how they understand this war, and then I will get to the “so what?” question.  The bottom line is that the enemy has a plan, and he has made no secret of it.  It is written out and made clear for all who care to read it.  For anybody who works in the national security arena, it is your duty to be familiar with the enemy’s plan, to read and understand those who conceived of the conceptual framework which brought us September 11th, the Fort Hood massacre and the attempted Times Square attack.

Sayyid Qutb, Milestones

Let us start with Sayyid Qutb, perhaps the most well known of the original jihadi ideologues.  Why is he significant?  Because his book, Milestones, is the roadmap, the justification for events such as September 11th.  What is his significance in one sentence? His argument is that the world is heretical, it is to be forcibly cleansed by Islam, and Islam is not to be understood as just a religion. You cannot treat it like Buddhism, Taoism, or Judaism.  It is much more than that.  To Sayyid Qutb, Islam is a revolutionary party.

Who-is-QutbWho is Qutb?  Let us put the author into context.  He was born in Egypt in 1906.  He was trained as a teacher, as a person versed in the educational sciences.  He learned the Koran by heart by the age of ten, and then he began his professional career as a civil servant in the Egyptian Ministry of Education.  The turning point for him in his gradual radicalization was the time he spent in the United States as an exchange scholar, from 1948 to 1950.  Here in the U.S. he spent time in Washington, in California, and most infamously in Greely, Colorado, where he observed and wrote on the local town dances and saw in them the moral corruption of the United States, its materialism, and its basic heretical nature.

On his return to Egypt in 1950, Qutb was energized to reframe Islam as a divinely ordained political movement that must cleanse the world of its current state of jahiliyyah.  Now jahiliyyah is an important concept from the beginning of the founding of Islam by Mohammed.  Jahiliyyah simply means a state of pagan disbelief.  It was used to describe the tribes living around Mecca who worshipped many Gods, who worshipped statues, idols and so forth.  Mohammed’s mission was to remove jahiliyyah, this lack of knowledge of the oneness of God, from the Arabia peninsula.  Qutb takes this ancient concept of jahiliyyahand says: today the 20th century suffers from jahiliyyah, from confusion, from not understanding the oneness of Allah, that he is supreme, and it is the job of true Muslims to remove this state of pagan ignorance not only from the Middle East but from the whole world as well.  Why? Because for Qutb it was not simply a question of unfaithful Arab leaders in the Middle East, but it was also a question of the West culturally invading the Milestones1Middle East, politically invading the Middle East, putting what he saw as puppets onto the thrones of Arab nations.  What we need, according to Qutb, is an enlightened vanguard.  This is interesting because he clearly took concepts such as “the vanguard” from Communist ideology.  Therefore do not treat the Jihadist ideology as sui generis, something that is unique and by itself. No, writers such as Qutb and even people before him such as Mawdudi in Pakistan (or India as it was), saw the power of other western totalitarian ideologies.  It is this ironic absorption of western concepts that otherwise would be deemed to be heretical and anathema into their new religiously framed ideology that makes Islamism a hybrid totalitarianism.  Today’s ideology of Global Jihad is therefore not simply a totalitarian man-made construct like Communism or Fascism, but one divinely-framed, and therefore a hybrid concoction.

Concepts key to Qutb’s dozens of books include the idea of global social justice as possible only through Islam:  Islam’s mission is to free all men from the tyranny of other men.  It is a global and universal mission.  What does that mean?  It means that humankind must be “liberated” from political systems run by human beings and from laws created by human beings.  In other words, Qutb believed human kind must be liberated from systems such as our own here in the United States, with its man-made laws.  Democracy is run, as Lincoln told us, by the representatives of the people for the people.  Democracy therefore cannot be sharia-compliant, for democracy represents a rejection of Allah’s Koranic law. As a result it must be destroyed. Islam’s mission is universal, Islam is a political movement that uses violence.  Jihad, according to Qutb, is not offensive but defensive.  This is an important distinction that echoes in later writers like Abdullah Azzam, and I will get to this point in a moment when we discuss bin Laden’s erstwhile boss.

Islam, according to Qutb, is a divine liberation to be realized through jihad.  We must return, therefore, to the ways of the first generation.  We must return to follow the behavior, the patterns of thought, and law, and systems that were Mohammed’s Islam.

Some quotes from his most famous book, Milestones: Islam is “ordained for the whole of mankind.”  It is the “last message for humanity.  We must return to the clear spring, the source that is the Koran and the Hadith, unsullied by Roman, Greek, Persian concepts such as democracy.”  So he is saying they must remove the influence of Islam from western concepts such as Roman law, Greek philosophy and so forth.  Only that which comes from the Koran and the collections of writings about Mohammed’s life, the Hadith, is pure.  Islam has lost its way–meaning Islam as a community has lost its way.  This holy text, the Koran, must not be deemed to be theoretical.  That is important: the Koran is a guide to praxis.  It is like what we would call an FM, a field manual.  It is not something for scholars to debate at al Azhar University, it is a guidebook for life.  It must be understood in practical terms, not theoretical terms.

Islam is a movement that will return Muslims to the correct path and away from jahiliyyah.  The mission “is not to compromise with the practices of a jahiliyyah society or pagan society.”  This is important if you think about immigration and the troubles we are seeing in Western Europe.  Qutb writes, “We cannot be loyal to a society that suffers from jahiliyyah or paganism.  Our aim is first to change ourselves so that we can change society.  We will never compromise.”  “No political system of earthly power should hinder Islam. If someone does hinder Islam’s spread then it is Islam’s duty to fight that person until he is killed or until he declares his submission.”  This is a very important declaration.  Hindering Islam could mean anything in practice. It means if anyone prevents Islamic proselytizing, that individual must be fought until he is killed or until he submits to the will of Allah. This is a theme that is echoed in the other ideologues we are going to discuss. Obstructing proselytizing is understood by Qutb and today’s jihadists as the initial aggressive act, one which justifies defensive jihad.  

Abdullah Azzam, The Defense of Muslim Lands

AbdullahLet us move on. Who is Abdullah Azzam?  Abdullah Azzam is really the creator of al Qaeda.  Abdullah Azzam is the mentor, the former boss of bin Laden.  He was the founder of something called the MAK, the Arab Service Bureau, which bin Laden would turn into al Qaeda after Azzam was assassinated.  Azzam was born in occupied Palestine in 1941 and he is important in the constellation of Jihadist ideologues in part because of his credentials.  Unlike Qutb, unlike al-Zawahiri, a ministry official and an MD, Azzam had a PhD. from Al Azhar University in Islamic Law.  This is very important in the culture of Islam. Do you have theological credentials?  When bin Laden issues a fatwa he does not actually have the authority to do so because he is a business graduate.  This is not something we think of as a powerful vulnerability, but it is.  Abdullah Azzam was one of the ideologues who was truly credentialed to make theological justifications for jihad.

Azzam’s contribution to the Jihadist canon of ideology is that he took jihad and he made it into an international brand.  He is the Steve Jobs of jihad.  He took Islamic Holy War and made it into a globally recognized brand like Apple.  After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Azzam traveled the world recruiting people to fight in the jihad against the heathen Russian infidels in Afghanistan.  He was so successful that he managed to rally Muslims of all nationalities to Afghanistan to fight with the Afghan Mujahedeen.

His most important concepts are contained in his monograph-length fatwaThe Defense of Muslim Lands, approved by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia.  This is not just some fringe individual, some kook hanging out in the Tora Bora region. This is a man who, when he writes a fatwa of seventy pages, receives approval from one of the most important essence-of-Islamreligious authorities in the country of the two holy sites, Mecca and Medina.  So this jihadi ideologue has official backing for what he says.  His key ideas include the mythical theme of failure and rebirth in Islam.  Failure happens in Islam, why?  Very simply, because Muslims have lost their way.  If they get back onto the right track they will vanquish their enemies.  Why have they gone from having a great Caliphate, from having the Ottoman Empire, to having the first ever university (in Baghdad).   How do they fall from these heights?  The explanation is simple: Muslims have strayed from the path of true Islam and this is Allah’s recompense.  They will be unsuccessful as long as they remain untrue, according to Azzam.  In order to be powerful again, they must return to the true path, they must return to the essence of Islam.

Here it is very important to understand the concept of abrogation in the writings of Azzam and many others.  This is a core concept in Islam.  Azzam’s writings clearly demonstrate how abrogation is used.  When you hear people say, “When Bin Laden quotes from the Koran, he is just cherry-picking, he is just picking bits he likes for himself to justify violence.  That is not true Islam.”  Well, that is not how the Koran works.  In truth, the Koran is a very contradictory book.  It can say things in one sura, or verse, which are completely opposed in another sura.  Islamic Jurisprudence understands that this is a serious problem. How can an eternal, uncreated, holy text contradict itself?  The answer that was manufactured to alleviate this potential time-bomb within Islam is abrogation.  Behind abrogation is that idea that divine revelation was given to Mohammed in stages, stages reflecting the context in which Mohammed was building his empire and building his religion.  So when Mohammed begins to teach about this religion but is still politically weak and not recognized by the tribes in Mecca, and wanted also to win over Jews and Christians, the verses of the Koran are more conciliatory. Then he is invited to Yathrib, to what will be Medina. His message finds fertile ground there, his religious nation begins to grow and he returns in force not just to persuade but to conquer.  Then we have the violent Medinan suras, the so-called sword verses:

But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (KoranSura 9.5)

Fight against those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Koran,Sura 9.29)

So Mohammed did not advocate violence at the beginning of Islam’s establishment, because by necessity of his position of weakness, he had no other choice. These are the peaceful verses of the Koran.  When he finally goes to Yathrib, when he is recognized as a prophet and starts to build a mass-base, he becomes a very powerful military leader and returns to Mecca triumphant. That is when the sword verses are “revealed.”  That is when he can talk about violence.  The Koran’s eternal truth is thus a victim to Mohammed’s specific context in time. This is how the principle of abrogation was born to explain inherent contradictions in the text.  If a verse comes later chronologically in the Koran it supersedes the verse that contradicts it. So when bin Laden quotes later suras, famously violent ones, such as 9.29, it is not because he is being selective.  It is because he is reflecting the later truth of Mohammed’s revelation–the later context of power, the use of jihad, the need for violence to spread Islam.  And if you understand abrogation you understand how these quotes are used by jihadists today. The fact is that in the evolution of Islam, the later violent years trump the concepts of the weaker early years–permanently.

In The Defense of Muslim Lands, Azzam defines jihad as a devotional act which is obligatory.  This is the last and most important aspect of Azzam’s work.  Azzam said jihad does not have to be declared by a Caliph.  You do not need to have a head of state give you permission to fight the enemy.  He goes even further and says it is an individual obligation (fard ayn).  Jihad is not something you have to do collectively when a leader gives you permission thanks to the invasion of Afghanistan. It is an individual obligation.

Azzam does something that is very unusual in Islam.  He says you do not even have to ask your father, you do not have to ask your husband, you do not have to ask anybody’s permission. You simply have to wage jihad.  You do not need clerical approval; you do not need a head of state to say, “Now I declare holy war.” You must do it even if you are a slave and your master forbids it.  You must do it if you are poor or if you are rich. Whoever you are, it is a universal and individual obligation.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner

Let us move on to perhaps the most well known individual amongst the ones we are going to cover today, and that is the person who is deemed by many analysts to be the real heart of al Qaeda, to be the center of gravity for this organization.  Not bin Laden. Bin Laden is the charismatic leader, but the man who provides bin Laden his context, his theological underpinnings, with his arguments. That man is Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Who is this man? Again, Egypt is important. He comes from a well known family. Al-Zawahiri is a qualified surgeon, member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.  He is bin Laden’s number two or perhaps he is Al Qaeda’s number one, ideologically.  No, this is not some poor man who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp.  This man’s family is important.  On his paternal side his grandfather was the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo.  His maternal grandfather was the President of Cairo University and the Egyptian Ambassador to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. His grandfather’s brother was the first Secretary General of the Arab League. This is not a fringe individual.  This man comes from a very powerful and influential family.

Al-zawahAl-Zawahiri’s formative years were shaped by the Muslim Brotherhood’s fight against the secularist Egyptian system, against leaders like Nasser. In his book Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner, which is less of a fatwa and more a memoir of sorts, he explains how his radicalization occurred, how he was shaped by understanding Arab leaders as pharaohs, as secular puppets of the West and how he was shaped by the treatment that was meted out against him by the Egyptian authorities when he was arrested as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and tortured in prison.  After he was released from prison in 1984, he returned to Pakistan where he was doing charity work as a doctor.  Who was he doing it for?  For the mujahedeen.  He was doing it for the victims of Afghanistan.  Seeing what was happening to his co-religionists in Afghanistan in the 1980s was formative in his radicalization.

AymanFor Ayman al-Zawahiri, democracy is the new enemy and jihad is the tool to realize the Islamic State.  His significance as the head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad lies in the consequences of his meeting Osama bin Laden and their creating a marriage of convenience between an organization that was salafist and parochially jihadist – in the Egyptian context, fighting the Near Enemy – and an organization, such as al Qaeda, that was Wahhabist and is about the Far Enemy, about Global Jihad.  Here we have a confluence of two methodologies, two contexts, the local theater and the global.  And this is why al Qaeda, the organization that develops later, is so influential in redefining the Near Enemy versus the Far Enemy.

Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner was completed around the time of 9/11 and smuggled out in October of 2001 to London where it was published in a Saudi newspaper, serialized over a period of days.  AQ understands information operations. Zawahiri had a whole book ready, so that when Special Forces and CIA units deployed into Afghanistan, everybody could read in English what Zawahiri had to say. Key concepts of his seminal work begin with the statement that human beings cannot be sovereign.  Sovereignty is Allah’s alone, therefore democracy must be destroyed as it posits man’s sovereignty over man.  Democracy is nothing more than a pagan religion.  It is a form of jahiliyyah.  Secondly, the line between internal and external enemies is an illusion.  The near enemy is a tool of the far enemy.  For example, the King of Jordan is not an internal enemy, he is not a near enemy, but just a puppet of America.  There is no distinction between the two, they must be understood as a whole: the enemy is everywhere.  Thirdly, the battle for Islam must go global.  All Muslims must engage. The message is clear from the very title of Zawahiri’s book: Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner. Muslims must all unite under one flag and not the flag of one nation but the flag of the last true prophet.  Rulers who defy Islam must be exposed, and all Muslims must be held responsible for defending Islam.  It does not matter if you are living comfortably in London, Berlin, or Minnesota–as a Muslim you are responsible too.  Without a Caliphate or Muslim super-state there cannot be victory.  At the end of his book Zawahiri states, “In our means, methods, and resources we must combine patience with infliction of mass casualties and the best method to do this is suicide attacks.” ….. “This confrontation with Islam’s enemies must be to the last drop of blood.”

Brigadier S.K. Malik, The Quranic Concept of Power

Now from the most famous jihadi thinker to the person you probably have not heard of, or at least who most people have not heard of: Brigadier S.K. Malik.  I cannot show you a photo because not even that supercomputer, Google, could find me one. Malik was a member of the Pakistani Army. That is all we know, and the fact that he wrote a very important book.  This book is the The Quranic Concept of Power, published in 1979.

QuranicLet me summarize why this man is important to you.  Imagine walking into Borders or Barnes & Noble and seeing a book written by Gen. David Petraeus, with a foreword by a member of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the preface by none other than President Obama.  Probably an important book, right?  Well, that is The Quranic Concept of Power. It was written by a serving General, with the foreword by the Advocate General of Pakistan, and a preface by none other than General Zia Haq, who was not only the Commander of the Pakistan Army but also Pakistan’s President from 1977 to 1988.  You may not have heard of Malik, but just think about the people who endorsed his book: a person who represents supreme justice in Pakistan and the individual who is the head of state and commander.  So it is an important book.  The preface by the Advocate General is thirteen pages long and is almost as important as the rest of the book.  Let us look at some of the concepts in the preface and the concepts of General Malik.

This is the only modern book authored by a Muslim that deals with war at the strategic level and which combines military theory with divine theological explanation.  This is not von Clausewitz. This is not the art of war in any western sense.  This is the science of warfare as ordained by Allah.  It is non-western and very difficult for us to mentally compare to our strategic paradigms, but that makes it all the more important for us to understand.  Think of it as a hybrid of von Clausewitz’s On War and a book on End Times evangelization all wrapped up together.  The work does not, therefore, fit into our world view or categories.

Additionally its significance lies in its advocacy of terror as a weapon willed by Allah.  Malik is very clear on this: the center of gravity is the soul of our infidel enemy.  It is the enemy’s faith, and the best tool ordained by Allah to destroy our enemy’s soul is terror.  So we have a serving General in the Pakistani Army telling us that 9/11 is the way to wage war.  War today is not to be understood in terms of western strategic concepts such as Land Air battle.  It is not Fire and Maneuver, or nuclear deterrence. It is 9/11.  It is terror.  According to Malik, striking terror in the soul of the enemy is the most effective divinely ordained weapon they have to use against their enemies.  Destroying the faith of the enemy is the object of war, according to Malik, and Jihad is the tool.  To illustrate his point, Malik described numerous battles that Mohammed engaged in, along with other conflicts in the history of Islam.

From General Zia’s foreword once can also garner other key messages of the book: “All Muslims must play a role in jihad, which is a collective responsibility of the whole Muslim ummah, not just soldiers.” Remember, this is from the President of Pakistan.  The Advocate General wrote in his foreword, “The purpose of war in Islam is to serve God’s divine purpose. Jihad is waged to establish Allah’s supremacy.”  Think about how sharply this contrasts with how we teach war at our academies and our war colleges.  War serves the purposes of the state for us. We teach von Clausewitz’s dictum that war is a continuation of politics by other means.  This book says the very reverse: “Jihad is the duty of the believer to carry Allah’s message forward.”  If a person is trying to move the message of Islam forward and he is obstructed in that effort, he is entitled to retaliate.  What does that mean in plain English? How do you explain that in simple words?  It means violence is required if you cannot proselytize.  If someone obstructs the spread of Islam, that is an act of war. If Muslims cannot spread the word of Allah war obtains.  That is most definitely not how we understand war.  For Christians and Jews, spreading our divine message is an indirect non-kinetic issue. We do not proselytize at the end of a gun, not least because we have learned it does not work, aside from the theological and moral indefensibility of it from a Judaic or Christian viewpoint. For the jihadist, spreading Islam and having someone obstruct you in that process is an attack on Islam.  Therefore you are already in a defensive posture and nobody has used a gun on the other side. War is thus triggered simply because the other does not want to be a Muslim.

The divine context of war as explained by the Koran is predicated on the spread of justice.  “Faith in Allah must be altogether and everywhere.  Jihad is a continuous and never ending struggle waged on all fronts including political, economic, social, psychological, domestic, moral, and spiritual.”  Is that how we understand war? The last front, spiritual, is where Malik is most controversial and this is where he starts to talk about terror as the center of gravity.  For Malik, war is an activity aimed at the human heart, at man’s soul, at his spirit, at his faith.  That is not how the West teaches war.  Take out the enemy’s general staff, establish air supremacy, put boots on the ground, those are the kind of things we understand under war.  But for Malik, war is about attacking the human heart, man’s soul, his spirit and faith.  Echoing Sun Tzu, he observes that peace is simply the preparation for war and is vastly more important than the activity of fighting.  What you do in peacetime to prepare is much more important than the kinetic violent actions of shooting people and blowing things up.  What are the consequences of this statement?  This means that Islam is perpetually at war and that peace is simply the preparation for war.

For General Malik, for his patrons and acolytes, jihad is clearly a holy war for both sides of the engagement.  When they say they are fighting a holy war, the conventional wisdom is to just say that that is their distortion. But if our enemy is aiming at our faith system, if they are aiming at our souls, it is de facto a holy war on our side as well because that is what the enemy has chosen to destroy.


What are we to conclude from all of this?  Why are these four writers important?  Here is the take-home:  AQ is just a small part of a much larger and older movement.  That movement has a plan to destroy our system using all means from the list given by Malik, not just violence.  This includes political and economic warfare and very sophisticated and fast information operations.  This conflict that we are in now, in our tenth year, is potentially more deadly and more dangerous than the Cold War, because the enemy is totalitarian, but he is not a secular godless totalitarian like Hitler or Stalin. This totalitarian has Allah on his side.

The sad truth is that we seem to be going backwards. Take just these three quotes from the 9/11 Commission report:

-       Our enemy “is sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal.”

-       “[T]he institutions charged with protecting our national security did not understand how grave this threat could be, and did not adjust their policies, plans, and practices to deter or defeat it.”

-       “In short, the United States has to help defeat an ideology, not just a group of people.

I am told that the U.S. Government’s policy now is to see our salvation in negotiations with people like Qaradawi, to engage the Soft Jiahdists.  If that is the Intelligence Community’s strategy and White House’s answer, then we have already lost.  If people who are the seminal clerical advocates for Jihad for the Muslim Brotherhood and the lead clerics for Al-Jazeera are going to be our saviors then we have surrendered.  If you do not want to give up, remember this. This is what we have to understand.

There are violent Jihadists and there are non-kinetic Soft Jihadists.  There is AQ and there is the OIC and the Muslim Brotherhood. They are taking different pathways to the same destination: the imposition of sharia law wherever they can make it happen and to the creation of a Caliphate.

Both groups believe in Jihad. Both groups are driven by the objectives Qutb, Azzam, Zawahiri and Malik espoused. They simply represent two faces of the same foe, an enemy whose doctrines and strategies we must begin studying in earnest.

Dr. Sebastian Gorka is Military Affairs Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and member of the Strategic Advisers Group of the U.S. Atlantic Council. Since 9/11 he has trained over 800 counter-terrorism officers from more than 50 nations including Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a former member of the British Territorial Army’s Intelligence & Security Group (22 Coy) and lectures frequently on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency at such institutions as West Point, Fort Leavenworth’s School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Special Operations Command and the National Counter Terrorism Center. Dr. Gorka is co-editor of the newly released Toward a Grand Strategy Against Terrorism (McGraw Hill, 2010). Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Defense, any U.S. government agency, or the Westminster Institute. The information presented here may be distributed or copied. Use of appropriate byline is requested.