Al Qaeda chief calls for jihadist unity to ‘liberate Jerusalem’

Ayman al Zawahiri says the jihadists must strike the West and build states in the Levant and Egypt in order to “liberate” Jerusalem.

Ayman al Zawahiri says the jihadists must strike the West and build states in the Levant and Egypt in order to “liberate” Jerusalem.

The Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, November 2, 2015:

Al Qaeda has released a new audio message from Ayman al Zawahiri, who addresses recent events at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The audio speech is embedded in a video that is nearly 16 minutes long and features archival footage of Osama bin Laden, a still image of Zawahiri, and scrolling text throughout.

Zawahiri begins by alleging that “Muslims everywhere” are upset by the “Jews’ repeated attacks on the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque,” according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. He then praises the knife attacks that have been carried out against Jews, saying they are “a new epic of jihad,” in which people “defend Palestine and Al Aqsa with knives, cars, stones, and everything they own.” Zawahiri asks Allah “to bless these martyrdom-seekers who dare to stab the Jews even as they are almost certain that they will be killed at the Jews’ hands.”

The al Qaeda leader argues that two things are required to “liberate” Jerusalem. First, the jihadists must strike “the West, and especially America, in its heartland” and also attack Western interests everywhere they are found. Zawahiri cites a number of previous attacks in the West as part of his call for more terror, including the September 11, 2001 hijackings and the Boston Marathon bombings carried out by the “two Tsarnaev brothers.”

Second, Zawahiri says that Muslims must establish a “state” in Egypt and the Levant in order to “mobilize the ummah to liberate Palestine.” The al Qaeda chieftain uses this point to emphasize one of his key themes. Establishing such states, based on al Qaeda’s radical version of sharia law, “requires unity,” avoiding “disputes and ending “hostilities” between “the mujahideen.” This is a reference to the infighting between the Islamic State, led by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and its jihadist rivals in Syria and elsewhere.

Therefore, Zawahiri once again calls for jihadist unity against the “mujahideen’s” common enemies. He does not endorse Baghdadi’s self-declared “caliphate.” He has already set forth his extensive critique of Baghdadi’s state in previous messages. And he takes a swipe against Baghdadi’s state again in his latest message, saying that al Qaeda is fighting to resurrect the caliphate based on the “prophetic method,” which requires shura (consultation). Baghdadi did not consult recognized jihadist authorities before declaring that his organization now rules over a “caliphate” covering large portions of Iraq and Syria.

But Zawahiri wants the fighters within Baghdadi’s ranks to stop fighting Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and its allies, as well as jihadists elsewhere, so that they can focus on the supposed alliance between America, Europe, Russia, the “Rejectionists” [meaning Shiites and Iran], and the Nusayri [a derogatory reference to Bashar al Assad’s Alawite regime]. Zawahiri alleges that all these parties are “coordinating their war against us” in a joint alliance. He asks why the jihadists are not able to set aside their differences and “direct” all of their “efforts” against them.

Addressing jihadists “from every group” around the world, Zawahiri says that the Levant and Egypt are the “two historical gates of Jerusalem” and the battle in those two areas is a fight against the “Crusader-Rejectionist alliance.” The ummah [community of worldwide Muslims] must support this battle however it can, Zawahiri says, because it is a battle “to show” what it means for Muslims to wage an “acceptable jihad” that elevates Allah’s sharia and does “not empower the secularist and national regimes.”

Zawahiri wants to build popular support for the jihadists’ efforts, seeing this as key to their victory. “It is a political jihad battle so we could convince the ummah that our conduct is in line with what we call for and does not contradict it and does not drive away the Muslim people from the mujahideen,” Zawahiri says. Thus, the jihadists must “hone our conduct in order to convince our Muslim people that we are really keen to be ruled over by sharia if we are called to implement it” and do not label other Muslims as non-believers. The jihadists must convince Muslims that they “are the most merciful of people toward our people” and “do not seek to oppress Muslims.”

Al Qaeda’s bottom-up approach is, therefore, very different from the Islamic State’s. While they both want to build governments based on sharia law, al Qaeda is much more focused on building legitimacy for its ideological project in the hearts and minds of Muslims. Al Qaeda and its allies want to gradually implement sharia law and eventually resurrect a caliphate. Zawahiri’s organization has adopted this strategy, in part, because it knows that most Muslims are not pining for al Qaeda-style rule.

Through its top-down authoritarianism, the Islamic State seeks to convince Muslims that it is a caliphate today and that its version of sharia law, with its graphic executions and punishments, is divinely justified. (Al Qaeda generally avoids propaganda that focuses on its implementation of sharia’s penalties, whereas the Islamic State explicitly advertises its decapitations and amputations.) From the Islamic State’s perspective, Muslims who do not accept its legitimacy as a “caliphate” are to be terrorized into submission.

Zawahiri is not only critical of the Islamic State, with its hard stance, but also other Islamist groups that have adopted softer approaches to achieving their goals.

In this “political jihad battle,” Zawahiri says, the Muslim people should be shown that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, salafists who support the Egyptian regime, and Rached Ghannouchi (a Tunisian Islamist who co-founded the Ennahda Movement in his home country) have erred by allying themselves with the secular governments and corrupt politicians who oppress Muslims. Zawahiri also accuses these Islamists of submitting themselves to agreements that recognize Israel’s legitimacy, “because they have realized that the price for reaching power is the acceptance of the secular constitutions and submission to Israel.”

The “mujahideen in Palestine” should fight to build an Islamic government, Zawahiri says, arguing that a “secular government that rejects sharia” in Jerusalem would be unacceptable.

Toward the end of his message, Zawahiri again ties Jerusalem to the jihadists’ efforts in the Levant and Egypt. “We must work to establish a Muslim government in the lands neighboring Israel,” he says, and the jihadists’ infighting distracts from this key mission.

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Archival footage of Osama bin Laden is included at the beginning and the end of the al Qaeda production. The clip at the end is used to emphasize that al Qaeda seeks to resurrect a caliphate. A common misconception in the West is that while the Islamic State seeks to conquer territory, al Qaeda only plots terrorist attacks.

“Today, praise be to Allah…we are redrawing the map of the Islamic world to make one state under the banner of the caliphate, Allah willing,” bin Laden says in the clip. From Zawahiri’s perspective, the jihadists’ battles in the Levant and Egypt are key to making this goal a reality.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

Also see:

Zawahiri calls for jihadist unity, encourages attacks in West

Screen-Shot-2015-09-13-at-3Long War journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, Sep. 13, 2015:

Al Qaeda has released the second installment in its “Islamic Spring” series, which features Ayman al Zawahiri delivering lectures. Zawahiri’s audio message is accompanied by a still image (seen above).

Zawahiri calls on all of the “mujahideen” in Iraq and Syria to cooperate and “help each other,” because the jihadists’ enemies are supposedly waging a vicious “crusade” against them. And he wants Muslims living in the West to help by attacking the “crusader” countries.

“I call on all Muslims who can harm the countries of the crusader coalition not to hesitate. We must now focus on moving the war to the heart of the homes and cities of the crusader West and specifically America,” Zawahiri says, according to Reuters.

Zawahiri does not offer his approval for the Islamic State’s caliphate, saying it was established in “secret” without proper consultation. (Al Qaeda and its allies frequently make this argument, which hinges on the idea that the Islamic State, by refusing to consult other recognized jihadist authorities, has not followed the appropriate “prophetic method.”)

Still, the al Qaeda leader says he cannot ignore the Islamic State’s accomplishments. He claims to support the Islamic State’s efforts when its members assist their jihadist brethren, but not when they sow discord in the “mujahideen’s” ranks. As in the first episode of the Islamic Spring series, Zawahiri says he would fight alongside Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s “faction” against the “Crusaders,” “secularists,” and “Safavids” (a derogatory term used by Sunni jihadists for Shiites).

Al Qaeda’s call for unity against the jihadists’ common enemies isn’t new or surprising, despite the enmity between the two sides. Zawahiri has repeatedly attempted to broker a peace deal. Al Qaeda’sregional branches have as well. It is likely that while al Qaeda considers Baghdadi and most of his inner circle to be a lost cause, the group still hopes that part of the Islamic State can be reconciled. At a minimum, Zawahiri hopes to limit the fitna (discord, or strife) that plagues the jihadists’ efforts, and so he hopes to convince followers of the Islamic State to avoid targeting their ideological cousins in al Qaeda-affiliated groups.

In one segment of the message, which has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Zawahiri calls for “Muslim youths” who want to carry “martyrdom-seeking” operations to strike inside the West instead of traveling abroad for jihad. Zawahiri repeats al Qaeda’s longstanding claim that the “Crusader West” is the ultimate power behind the jihadists’ opposition.

“Therefore, if we strike the head, then the wings and the body will fall, and if the war reaches the home of the great criminals, then they would stop the war and revise their policies, Allah permitting,” Zawahiri says, according to SITE’s translation.

Al Qaeda’s emir says that such operations do not always require explosives, and can be carried out using other weapons.

He also calls on Muslims in the West to emulate jihadists such as: Ramzi Yousef (who masterminded the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993), Mohammed Atta and “the eagles of martyrdom” (meaning Atta and his fellow 9/11 hijackers), Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shahzad Tanweer (two of the suicide bombers who struck in London on July 7, 2005), Major Nidal Malik Hasan (who carried out the Fort Hood shooting in 2009), Umar al Farouq (or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009), Tamerlan and Dzohar Tsarnaev (the brothers who bombed the Boston marathon in 2013), Mohammed Merah (who carried out three shootings in France in 2012), and “the brave knights of the Paris invasion” (a reference to the Kouachi brothers, who were responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre earlier this year).

Although Zawahiri encourages young recruits to follow in these terrorists’ footsteps on their own, there is a noteworthy difference between “lone wolf” attacks and most of the operations he lists. Almost all of the jihadists mentioned by Zawahiri either received professional training, or were specifically directed to carry out the operations they executed. The one known exception is Nidal Malik Hasan, who sought approval for his attack from Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP ideologue, but does not appear to have received any direct assistance from jihadist organizations. It is not clear if the elder Tsarnaev brother received some training in the Caucasus region during his travels abroad.

Zawahiri says that Muslim recruits who want to learn more about such operations should consult As Sahab’s productions (As Sahab is al Qaeda’s official media arm) or AQAP’s Inspire magazine. The latest edition of Inspire, which also advocates attacks by “lone mujahideen,” underscores al Qaeda’s direct role in preparing Said Kouachi for the assault on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris.

The release of al Qaeda’s “Islamic Spring” series has long been delayed and, therefore, includes odd references. For example, in the first installment, Zawahiri notes that the Islamic State has caused problems by calling for jihadists to break their bayat (allegiance) to Mullah Omar. But the Taliban leader was likely dead at the time Zawahiri made the recording. The Taliban has since admitted that it covered up Omar’s death.


Also see:

Al Qaeda Does Not Recognize IS as Legitimate

Zawahii and BaghdadiCenter for Security Policy, by Nicholas Hanlon, Sep. 11, 2015:

Seeing the IS group in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a clear and existential threat, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has revealed his true feelings about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and they are not warm.

“We preferred to respond with as little as possible, out of our concern to extinguish the fire of sedition, but Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his brothers did not leave us a choice, for they have demanded that all the mujahideen reject their confirmed pledges of allegiance, and to pledge allegiance to them for what they claim of a caliphate.”

Zawahiri apparently recorded this message before Mullah Omar died since he restated al Qaeda’s loyalty to Omar.  Just for kicks, one might draw comparisons between the handling of IS by al Qaeda and the Obama administration.  Zawahiri claims that he had avoided taking issue with al Baghdadi for fear of giving him legitimacy.  As a strategy, that turned out to be irreverent because IS has succeeded in making themselves such a problem for the Taliban and al Qaeda, they are now forced to admit as much.

The U.S. administration also tried to act like IS was no big deal.  Thanks to great reporting by the Daily Beast we now know that it was a policy to suppress intelligence analysis from Centcom about IS.  Despite the continual global spread of IS with propaganda upgrades on social media that can sometimes make al Qaeda look like your grandmother’s global jihadists, the U.S. administration is not likely to say ‘uncle’ no matter how hot the world burns.   The administration sees itself as having already said the final word on the matter.  In their version of history, the air strikes are the answer to IS just like the ‘deal’ is the answer to the Iranian nuclear program.  Don’t expect much more than that.

Also see:

VIDEO: Former Al-Qaeda Leader Says Obama-Aligned Muslim Brotherhood ‘Is One of the Most Dangerous Organizations’

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, September 8, 2015:

I had the opportunity to escort a U.S. congressional delegation to Egypt last week — we were sponsored by the Cairo-based Center for North Africa and Near East Security Studies.

One of the common themes we heard from senior government officials and experts was the active role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the ongoing terror campaign targeting military, police, and government officials, as well as  in the sabotage of infrastructure. I reported here at PJ Media back in June on the Brotherhood’s escalating violence.

There have been a number of signs this past year indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has effectively dropped its non-violent mask, including:

Despite media reports that the group is “divided” over the use of violence, the group has unmistakably made its position clear.

One expert very familiar with the workings and ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood is the founder and former head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Sheikh Nabil Naeem. He lived with both Osama bin Laden and current al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri, and witnessed the formation of al-Qaeda. In Afghanistan, he served as bin Laden’s personal bodyguard, and was Zawahiri’s long-time “right arm.”

On my last trip to Cairo, my colleague Steve Coughlin and I had the opportunity to interview Sheikh Nabil at his office for more than nine hours over two days.

During that interview we discussed a number of topics, including the trajectory of the global jihadist movement, the development of terrorist organizations in the Sinai, and his experience with EIJ and al-Qaeda until his arrest and eventual rejection of jihadist ideology.


But at the end of our interview with Sheikh Nabil, he began explaining how the Muslim Brotherhood is “one of the most dangerous organizations.”

In response to that statement, I requested that we video record Sheikh Nabil’s response to our questions on this issue as well as his previous statements on the group, which we exclusively present in translation here.

Along the way, he explodes commonly held myths among the Washington, D.C., foreign policy community, including the claim that the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence and that there are no connections between the Brotherhood and terror groups in Sinai.

Q: Why do you believe the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most dangerous organizations?

Nabil: First we accuse the Obama administration of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood to rule Egypt and supporting Morsi’s presidential campaign. Senator McCain also admitted his support to the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi.

Accordingly, it is not expected from the Obama administration to neither acknowledge Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization nor acknowledge their ties to other terrorist organizations. That would mean the Obama admin and the Democrats acknowledge and support a terrorist group.

But we know that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization and all their confessions are available at the prosecution office. And I can tell you how the prosecution process work because I have been through questioning for 35 years.

If any torture takes place it might happen in the police station, but never the prosecution and they are very careful in regards to the legal procedure. That is why any confessions at the prosecution are called the matter of all evidence.

I personally know ABM are improvised, as well as AQ too. What they use is Muslim Brotherhood money and they admitted this repeatedly.

Q: The Muslim Brotherhood present themselves in the United States as moderate Islam and the only alternative to al-Qaeda. Since you have witnessed the formation of al-Qaeda, do you believe this is true?

Nabil: First the Muslim Brotherhood presented themselves to Mubarak as the alternative to all the takfiri/terrorist groups in Egypt, but the truth is Muslim Brotherhood are the main sponsors of them alland that is the Muslim Brotherhood’s way in promoting themselves as the alternative.

Like they did with Luxor massacre, they sponsored and supported terrorist groups to attack tourism in Egypt. Back in the 1990s Abu Walid, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who used to live in Germany, traveled to Afghanistan and met with Refaie Taha and Ayman Al-Zawahiri to arrange with them what was later known as the Luxor massacre.

At the same time the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt condemned the attack to convince the audience of their moderation.

This is a simple tactic: in order for the Muslim Brotherhood to appear as moderate group, they need the terrorists to commit acts of terrorism so the people would see the difference.

However, knowing the Muslim Brotherhood means knowing they are devil’s allies.

Q: Back in the 1970s the Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence, but we still see other groups ideologically bound to them like Hamas still using violence. What do you believe?

Nabil: The Muslim Brotherhood are double-faced liars, they claim they renounced violence but I will cite a conversation between Ghassan bin Jiddo and Abdul Monem Abul Fotouh that will sum them up.

Ghassan said you (the Muslim Brotherhood) claim that you renounced violence and you said that you don’t topple regimes, although you used violence with Abdul Nasser in Egypt and when Hamas and Fatah had a disagreement, Hamas committed the Gabalya massacre and their mufti, Youssef Al-Astal, endorsed killing Fatah members and Hamas killed 700 of them in a single day.

It is their deeds versus their words, which would you believe?

The Muslim Brotherhood are terrorists and they killed too many people, even after June 30 and I myself witnessed the Al-Itehadia massacre when they killed 13 innocent citizens — one of them a child because he was carrying Sisi’s poster. They shot him in the back of his head.

Even Ibn Khaldoun Center that is sponsored by the U.S. released a report about the Rabia sit-in and documented about 44 cases of Muslim Brotherhood torturing innocent citizens, 33 of which died of torture.

Q: We are trying to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. What do you believe the Americans should know?

Nabil: I would advise the Americans to read books written by the Muslim Brotherhood about themselves. Dots on Letters by Ahmed Adel Kamal where he proudly documented the Muslim Brotherhood terror attacks calling them jihad. The other book is by Mahmoud Al-Sabbagh called The Truth About the Secret Organization where he listed all the facts about the Muslim Brotherhood militias and how they were used to attack the opposition.

For the present times, Americans should monitor the Muslim Brotherhood and what they do in Syria, Egypt, Libya and everywhere they are.


I will be reporting more from Egypt later this week.

Analysis: Osama bin Laden’s son praises al Qaeda’s branches in new message


This image appears throughout much of Hamzah bin Laden’s newly-released audio message. Hamzah’s face is not shown in the production.

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, August 18, 2015:

In the months leading up to his death in early May 2011, Osama bin Laden was worried about the fate of his son Hamzah. Files recovered in the terror master’s Abbottabad compound show that he repeatedly discussed ways to prevent Hamzah from falling into the hands of al Qaeda’s enemies. Osama wanted his son to avoid Waziristan, where the drones buzzed overhead, at all costs. And he suggested that Hamzah flee to Qatar, where he could lie low for a time.

Last week, more than four years after Osama’s death, al Qaeda released a lengthy audio message by Hamzah.

Osama’s son does not show his face in the al Qaeda production. This is most likely for security purposes. Most of the videos and pictures circulated online show Hamzah as a young boy, before he could possibly understand the true extent of his father’s mission. But it is clear from his new statement to the world that Hamzah has taken up his father’s business. Hamzah’s lengthy speech has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

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Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir, offers a brief introduction for Hamzah, describing him as “a lion from the den of [al Qaeda].” A screen shot of the still image used during Zawahiri’s speech can be seen on the right.

Before turning over the mic to Hamzah, Zawahiri apparently alludes to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’soffices in Paris in January. Zawahiri asks Allah to “reward our brothers in” al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) “for they have fulfilled his promise and healed the chests of the believers.” This language is a reference to al Qaeda’s current campaign against alleged blasphemers, who have supposedly wounded “believers” with their words and images. AQAP claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo assault, saying it was carried out according to Zawahiri’s orders.

Hamzah then begins to speak about current affairs. However, an Arabic transcript posted with the message indicates his audio was recorded in May or June of this year, meaning it is somewhat dated. Indeed, Hamzah praises Taliban emir Mullah Omar, saying he is the “hidden, pious sheikh” and “the firm mountain of jihad.” Hamzah asks Allah to “preserve” Omar, indicating that he thought the Taliban chieftain was alive when his audio was recorded.

Hamzah also renews his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Omar.

“From here, in following my father, may Allah have mercy on him, I renew my pledge of allegiance to Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar, and I say to him: I pledge to you to listen and obey, in promoting virtue and waging jihad in the cause of Allah the Great and Almighty,” Hamzah says, according to SITE’s translation.

According to some sources, including Afghan intelligence, Omar passed away in April 2013, or more than two years before the Taliban officially announced his death. If true, then this means that Hamzah and al Qaeda’s senior leadership reaffirmed their loyalty to a corpse.

It is possible that Omar did die in 2013 and al Qaeda somehow did not know this. Given al Qaeda’s close relationship with the Taliban’s new leadership, including Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who served as Omar’s deputy and is now his successor, this would more than a little surprising. It is also possible that al Qaeda’s leaders knew Omar was dead and decided to pretend that he was alive for their own sake, as part of an attempt to unite the ranks in the jihadist community. Or, it could be the case that Omar finally perished more recently than the Afghan government and other sources have said.

In any event, Hamzah clearly refers to Omar as if he was alive just a few months ago.

While praising Zawahiri as a jihadist leader, Hamzah does not swear allegiance directly to him. This is different from the leaders of each regional branch of al Qaeda, all whom have sworn their fealty to Zawahiri.

While al Qaeda’s branches respected Mullah Omar as the “Emir of the Faithful,” their loyalty has always been to al Qaeda’s overall emir, who, in turn, has pledged his allegiance to Omar. Zawahiri first pledged himself to Omar and, earlier this month, to Mansour. Therefore, al Qaeda’s regional operations are loyal to Mansour through Zawahiri.

Hamzah honors the leader of each al Qaeda branch. He begins with Nasir al Wuhayshi, who led AQAP until he was killed in a US drone strike in June, just weeks after Hamzah’s recording session. Wuhayshi was succeeded by Qasim al Raymi, who quickly reaffirmed his own allegiance to Zawahiri. Interestingly, Hamzah refers to Wuhayshi as al Qaeda’s “deputy emir,” indicating that he held the same position that Zawahiri himself once did under Osama bin Laden.

In addition to being the head of AQAP, Wuhayshi’s role as al Qaeda’s global general manager from 2013 onward has been widely reported. But under bin Laden that job was separate from the deputy emir’s slot. Al Qaeda’s general manager at the time of bin Laden’s death was Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who was subsequently killed in a US drone strike. Wuhayshi’s status as deputy emir of al Qaeda was never publicly announced by the group.

Osama’s heir continues with a roll call of other al Qaeda regional emirs, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Abdulmalek Droukdel, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s (AQIS) Asim Umar,Shabaab’s Abu Obaidah Ahmed Omar, and Al Nusrah Front’s Abu Muhammad al Julani. Hamzah does not mention Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State, but he clearly had Baghdadi’s men in mind when addressing Julani, whom he describes as the “bold commander.”

“We thank your jihad, your firmness, and your great, unique sacrifices through which you have revived the feats of the ancestors of Islam,” Hamzah says to Julani, according to SITE. “But we were pained and saddened…due to the sedition that pervaded your field, and there is no power or strength but with Allah. We advise you to stay away as far as possible from this sedition.” Here, Hamzah is clearly referring to the infighting between the jihadists in Syria. The conflict has repeatedly pitted Julani’s Nusrah against Baghdadi’s Islamic State.

A standard motif in al Qaeda’s productions is to call for influential and well-known jihadists to be freed from their imprisonment. Thus, Hamzah tips his hat to  Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman (a.k.a. the “Blind Sheikh,” who is imprisoned in the US on terrorism charges), Sheikh Suleiman al Alwan (a famous al Qaeda-affiliated cleric detained in Saudi Arabia), and 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (held by the US at Guantanamo).

Hamzah spent a number of years in detention in Iran. And he calls for some of the al Qaeda leaders he was detained with there to be freed.

“And from among my sheikhs through whose hands I was educated: Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Abu al Kheir, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Masri, Sheikh Saif al Adl, and Sheikh Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, may Allah release them all,” Hamzah says. His mention of Saif al Adl, one of al Qaeda’s most senior military commanders, is especially intriguing. Hamzah indicates that al Adl is imprisoned. Various reports have claimed that al Adl was freed from Iranian custody, but his status at any given time has always been murky. Abu Ghaith, a former al Qaeda spokesman, is imprisoned in the US, but was also detained inside Iran for a time.

Much of the rest of Hamzah’s talk is devoted to the supposed Zionist-Crusader alliance that al Qaeda has made the centerpiece of its mythology. Hamzah’s words contain echoes of his father’s speeches from nearly two decades ago, when al Qaeda’s founder first declared war on America and the West. Like his father, Hamzah calls for continued attacks in the West. And he encourages so-called “lone wolf” attackers to strike.

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“One operation from a loyal knight from your knights who chose his target and did well in his selection, and did his job and did well in his job, it would shake the policy of a great nation in a dire fashion,” Hamzah says. “So then, what would tens of operations do?”

Towards the end of the video, al Qaeda includes footage of various protests from throughout the Middle East. The protesters, many of whom are young men, can be heard chanting, “Obama, Obama, We are all Osama!” (A screen shot of this video footage can be seen on the right.)

Al Qaeda clearly hopes that Hamzah will help represent this new generation of al Qaeda followers.


New Taliban emir accepts al Qaeda’s oath of allegiance

Left: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, from a handout released by a Taliban spokesman. Right: Ayman al Zawahiri, from his latest tape declaring allegiance to Mansour.

Left: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, from a handout released by a Taliban spokesman. Right: Ayman al Zawahiri, from his latest tape declaring allegiance to Mansour.

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, August 14, 2015:

The Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, has accepted the oath of allegiance (bayat) from al Qaeda emir Ayman Zawahiri, as well as the pledges to him from “Jihadi organizations spread throughout the globe.” Mansour’s statement was released just one day after al Qaeda released an audio message from Zawahiri in which he gave bayat to Mansour.

Mansour’s statement accepting Zawahiri’s pledge was released today on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website. In the statement, the Taliban emir thanked “all those respected brothers who have sympathized with us in this critical juncture of the Islamic Ummah, have sent messages of condolence about the passing away of Amir ul Mumineen [Mullah Omar] or have pledged allegiance with us as the new Amir (leader) of the Islamic Emirate and servant of the Muslims.”

Mansour places Zawahiri’s oath of fealty above all others.

“Among these respected brothers, I first and foremost accept the pledge of allegiance of the esteemed Dr. Ayman ad-Dhawahiri [al Zawahiri], the leader of international Jihadi organization (Qaedatul Jihad) and thank him for sending a message of condolence along with his pledge and pledge of all Mujahideen under him,” Mansour said.

“Similarly those Mujahideen protecting the Jihadi frontlines, Madaris (religious seminaries), teachers of universities and centers for learning, national figures and all Islamic and Jihadi personalities as well as Jihadi organizations spread throughout the globe who have sent messages of condolence or pledge allegiance with us as leader of Jihad, I reciprocally thank them and implore Allah Almighty to grant me and all our brothers success to properly serve Islam and Muslims,” he continued.

Mansour’s acceptance of Zawahiri’s oath should come as no surprise. The new Taliban emir issued a pro-al Qaeda statement in June, before Mullah Omar’s death was announced. In the statement, he described al Qaeda’s leaders as the “heroes of the current jihadist era” and bin Laden as the “leader of mujahideen.” Mansour’s statement contained parallels to al Qaeda’s messaging and he took al Qaeda’s side in its dispute with the rival Islamic State.

Mansour’s leadership team also indicates his close ties to al Qaeda. As The Long War Journal reported on July 31, Mansour appointed Siraj Haqqani, the operational leader of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, as one of his top two deputies. Files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound and other evidence show that Siraj has worked closely with al Qaeda for years. [See LWJ report, The Taliban’s new leadership is allied with al Qaeda.]

The public acceptance of Zawahiri’s pledge demonstrates that Mansour has no intention of breaking with al Qaeda.

Indeed, the statement from the new Taliban emir is a dramatic gesture. Since last year, al Qaeda has repeatedly broadcast its enduring allegiance to Mansour’s predecessor, Mullah Omar. In July 2014, al Qaeda released a video from mid-2001 of Osama bin Laden explaining his loyalty to Omar. But the Taliban’s public-facing propaganda has been far less explicit about the relationship. For instance, after al Qaeda reaffirmed its allegiance to Omar on July 20, 2014, the Taliban did not publish a statement attributed to Omar acknowledging the pledge.

Therefore, while the Taliban and al Qaeda have long been closely allied, Mansour’s official statement is a bold proclamation of the relationship between the groups.


Also see:

The Jihadist Blowback Against the Islamic State

cbc5c365-6298-4aa0-b2be-a6264acb6d49_16x9_600x338Stratfor, by Scott Stewart, July 9, 2015:

Last Ramadan saw the proclamation of the caliphate as a triumphant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in Mosul’s Great Mosque to declare himself the leader of all Muslims worldwide. This Ramadan, things have changed dramatically for the organization. Al-Baghdadi is keeping an extremely low profile because of the coalition bombing campaign over Iraq and Syria, while the Islamic State is on the strategic defensive, struggling financially and to hold the territories it conquered.

Although many often refer to the Islamic State as the wealthiest terrorist group ever, they fail to understand that the organization is really an insurgency rather than a terrorist group — and that fighting a war on several fronts and governing territory, especially large cities such as Mosul, Raqqa and Ramadi, requires an incredible amount of money, resources and manpower. The Islamic State’s resource burn rate is magnitudes larger than that of a true terrorist group or even a small insurgency. Coalition airstrikes against oil collection points, oil tankers and mobile refineries have put a serious dent in the Islamic State’s economy. Though the group does earn considerable revenue from taxation, extortion and smuggling, these revenue sources — which are obtained mostly from the people the group rules — are limited and will breed increased resentment against the group as they are ramped up.

This Ramadan also brought a new challenge to the Islamic State when the al Qaeda pole of the transnational jihadist movement launched a widespread ideological campaign to undercut the Islamic State’s support base. These ideological efforts have been impressive, at least to this middle-aged American analyst. It remains to be seen, however, if they will have the desired impact on wealthy jihadist donors and young recruits.


The first ideological salvo fired this Ramadan was the second issue of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s Resurgence Magazine. The 92-page publication was a “special issue” containing a lengthy interview that the publisher, Hassaan Yusuf, had conducted with Adam Gadahn, aka “Azzam the American,” an English-language spokesman for the al Qaeda core group who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan in January.

While the interview was ostensibly a biography of Gadahn, Yusuf was able to cleverly shape it into a hit piece on the Islamic State. For example, Yusuf quoted Gadahn talking about al Qaeda’s interactions with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While Gadahn discussed al Qaeda’s conflicts with al-Zarqawi, it emphasized that he was a strong proponent of jihadist unity and that he should not be held responsible for the “deviation” of those who claim to follow him today. The interview contained many scathing indictments of the Islamic State, such as:

  • Declaring Muslims to be outside the fold of Islam is not a trivial matter or something to be taken lightly.
  • Spilling the blood, taking the wealth and violating the rights of Muslims is not a trivial matter or something to be taken lightly.
  • When you declare yourselves to be “the” Islamic State, you are responsible if your actions and behavior distort the image of the Islamic system of government in the eyes of the Ummah and the world.
  • Ignorance of Sharia and misinterpretation of Islamic texts.

Interestingly, many of the arguments directed against the Islamic State used language that was not typical for Gadahn: specifically, terms that were beyond his educational level and normal lexicon. This likely indicates that these sections were later inserted by Yusuf, who is quite erudite, eloquent and apparently very well educated. Yusuf’s writing uses advanced American idiomatic English, and it would be unsurprising to learn that he had earned an advanced degree from an American university, perhaps even an Ivy League school. Gadahn, by contrast, never attended university, and while he often sought to sound sophisticated in public statements, his efforts were transparent and his usage came across as unnatural.

Resurgence shows that in Yusuf, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent has an articulate propagandist who likely retains contacts in the United States. He is certainly a much deeper thinker than figures like Gadahn or Inspire magazine editor Samir Khan ever were. Yusuf accordingly will be an important figure to note and track.

Al Risalah Magazine

The second major ideological assault against the Islamic State was launched with the introduction of Al Risalah, a new English-language magazine by Jabhat al-Nusra. Risalah, which means “letter” in Arabic, has the stated purpose of dispelling “from the minds of
 the Muslims some of
 the mistaken notions
 and doubts promoted by the kuffar, hypocrites and deviant groups present amongst our midst, who aim to distort and destroy the clear and pure message of Islam and Jihad in the way of Allah.”

The “hypocrites and deviants” the magazine focuses most intently upon hail from the Islamic State, which the magazine refers to as the Dawlat al-Baghdadi, or state of al-Baghdadi. The publication repeatedly criticizes the Islamic State for spreading dissension and attacking Jabhat al-Nusra/al Qaeda in Syria, when the latter are genuine jihadists. It also castigates the Islamic State for dividing and attacking fellow jihadists in Yemen, the Caucasus, Afghanistan and Libya. “They have made their khilafa a sword, which splits the Ummah, and not a khilafa, which gathers the Ummah together.”

Being produced by Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Al Risalah naturally contains several articles authored by senior al-Nusra leaders, such as a eulogy for former al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasir al-Wahayshi written by al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani. The magazine also features articles from a number of other interesting figures, including a female jihadist who immigrated to Syria from the United Kingdom and an American jihadist named Abu Hudaifa al-Amreeki. Another article was written by Qaari Ikram, a senior Taliban religious authority.

The magazine devotes a great deal of space to refuting the ideology and actions of the Islamic State and argues that the Islamic State cannot be the legitimate caliphate since al-Baghdadi did not consult with the leaders of the global jihadist movement before proclaiming himself caliph. An article entitled “Khilafa One Year On” specifically noted that the caliphate had not been restored and quoted a Hadith from Sahih Bukhari that says “if any person gives the pledge of allegiance to somebody (to become a caliph) without consulting the other Muslims, then the one he has selected should not be granted allegiance, lest both of them should be killed.” The article also criticizes young Islamic State supporters for believing things posted on social media over the opinions of respected jihadist clerics, such as Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, and even of treating such scholars with contempt and disrespect.

This theme of disrespecting elder jihadists and even cursing at them was made in other articles, including an interview with Chechen jihadist Muslim Shishani and an article by Qaari Ikram titled “This is al Qaeda or Have They Forgotten.”

Ikram was particularly pointed in countering the argument repeatedly made by Islamic State figures that Ayman al-Zawahiri and the present al Qaeda leadership have strayed from the path charted by Osama bin Laden. Ikram notes that unlike the Islamic State leaders, he knew bin Laden — as well as other al Qaeda leaders — and observed his methods and beliefs in favorable conditions and under pressure. Based upon this firsthand knowledge, Ikram asserts that bin Laden and the other al Qaeda leaders would have condemned the Islamic State for attacking other jihadists, for the indiscriminate killing of non-Muslim women and children, and for the killing of Muslim women and children. He also berated them for being bloodthirsty, deceitful and divisive and for being excessive in declaring takfir (declaring a Muslim to be an unbeliever).

An article called “Halab Under Fire” by Abu Hudaifa al Amreeki specifically charged the Islamic State with helping the administration of Syrian President Bashar al Assad by attacking Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadist groups north of Aleppo (Halab is an ancient name for Aleppo). This forced other jihadists to divert forces away from their attack on loyalists in Aleppo to counter the Islamic State attack.

Turning the Tables on the Islamic State

Members and sympathizers of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have begun to use social media more aggressively. They launched a campaign on Twitter this week to criticize Abu Belal al-Harbi, the leader of the Islamic State in Yemen, accusing him of treason. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb also issued a statement this week criticizing the Islamic State’s actions in Libya. Whether such efforts will make much headway against the Islamic State’s powerful social media juggernaut, however, is not clear.

I found some compelling arguments against the Islamic State’s ideology and practices while reading these materials. But whether potential jihadist recruits and wealthy jihadist donors will take the time to read them and be swayed — or whether they will continue to feed off the Islamic State’s dramatic videos and short social media posts — remains to be seen.

Perhaps some of the more mature jihadists and foreign financiers will in fact take time to read these magazines and the reasoned arguments put forth in them. But for many of the younger recruits, the lure of bloody mayhem and Yazidi sex slaves may prove too strong for al Qaeda’s arguments to overcome.

Here Are al-Qaeda’s Guidelines for Which ‘Blasphemers’ to Assassinate

aqiswarningPJ Media, By Bridget Johnson On May 28, 2015:

Two weeks after the latest murder of a blogger for professing disbelief in the Islamic prophet or simply promoting a secular society, al-Qaeda’s new chapter in southeast Asia has issued an update about who will be targeted next.

The bloggers hacked to death in brazen, public attacks thus far have all been in Bangladesh — one of the three victims in less than three months was an American citizen — but the English-language posting of the terrorists’ target list suggests that forthcoming attacks may not be limited in scope.

Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh considers itself a “brother” of al-Qaeda, as Ayman al-Zawahiri has united South Asia jihadist groups under al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. The chapter was announced last September after what al-Zawahiri said was two years of set-up work with regional Islamist leaders, with a consultative council already operating for a year before the official announcement.

Their newest warning posted online vows to target:

  • “Those who are insulting our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Allah (S) and our religion Islam. We have no problem with the atheists bloggers, atheism or with other religions or belief but we will not tolerate insulting out Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). We are targeting those who are insulting our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the name of atheism.”
  • “People who are not allowing to follow the rulings of shariah. He/She might be a teacher of a University, College or School. He/She might be a leader of a certain area or locality or a political party. He/She might be a Judge, Advocate, Engineer or Doctor etc.”
  • “Those who are presenting Islam wrongly in His/Her writings or talks and trying to keep Muslims far from the real teaching of Islam which is one of the main agendas of crusaders in the Muslim nations all over the world. He/She might be a well known writer. He/She might be a poet or free thinker or so called intellectuals. He/She might be an editor of a newspaper of magazine. He/She might be a actor, journalist, producer, director or actor etc.”
  • “Those who are opposing, lowing and presenting wrongly the rulings of shariah by his/her talks or writings using media or any other means of publications.”
  • “Those who are trying to destroy Muslim social values by introducing and spreading the nudity and zina [sex outside of marriage] among the Muslim youths.”
  • “Those who are tying to remove the shariah rulings from the existing Islamic systems, values, cultures and economics.”
  • “Those who are trying to stop the establishment of Islamic rulings (Shariah).”

The al-Qaeda chapter claims it won’t target any people just for not being Muslim, but declared open season on “those who are trying to insult our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Allah (S) and our religion by any means such as writings, talks or physical works.”

Ananta Bijoy Das, a science writer whose numerous books included one on evolution, was hacked to death by four men wielding machetes and cleavers May 12 as he went to work in the city of Sylhet.

AQIS issued a statement afterward announcing they were “delighted” to be responsible for “one Islamophobic atheist blogger sent to hell.” They accused Das of “taunts” to Islam.

Das knew his life was in danger, and tried to get a visa to go to Sweden for a press-freedom event. Swedish officials denied the request last month, afraid that the writer wouldn’t return to Bangladesh.

In February, Bangladeshi-American secularist blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death on a Dhaka street. “The target was an American citizen.. 2 in 1. #America recently martyred 2 of our brothers in #Khurasan & #Shaam. #Revenge+#Punishment,” Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh tweeted afterward.

Roy was a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who lived in Georgia and was in Bangladesh for a month. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, was with him at the time of the attack and was severely wounded, with one of her fingers severed by the pair of machete-wielding attackers.

His blog in the 90 percent Muslim country,, translates to “free thinking” and featured atheist, humanist and nationalist writers. He was also an author whose books included The Philosophy of Disbelief and The Virus of Faith — further stoking outrage of Islamists.

Das contributed to

After Roy’s murder, secular blogger Washiqur Rahman wasn’t going to take it from the Islamists. He posted a Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoon and used the hashtag #IamAvijit. Rahman was hacked to death at the end of March.

Two suspects out of three attackers were seized at the scene of the crime: students at an Islamic school who said they were acting on orders to kill Rahman.

Al-Qaeda issued a video at the beginning of this month saying AQIS was behind those assassinations and more, including the February 2013 murder of secularist Bangladeshi blogger Rajib Haider.

“Praise be to Allah, these assassinations are part of a series of operations initiated by the different branches of al-Qaeda on the orders of our respected leader Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri (may Allah protect him),” AQIS leader Asim Umar said. “It is equally part of our commitment to fulfill the oath of Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] (may Allah have mercy on him).”

The assassination campaign, Umar stressed, is teaching “a lesson to blasphemers in France, Denmark, Pakistan and now in Bangladesh.”

Though not specifically mentioned by the al-Qaeda directive, the message was released two days before Friday’s “Draw Muhammad” event outside of a Phoenix mosque.

The Islamic State’s curious cover story


In the recently released edition of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s online English magazine, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s followers make their bitter rivalry with al Qaeda the centerpiece of their presentation to the public.

The cover story, entitled “Al-Qaidah of Waziristan,” is written by an alleged al Qaeda defector known as Abu Jarir ash-Shamali.

His story begins before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when he joined Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s organization, Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad, in Jordan. Shamali is keen to emphasize the differences between Zarqawi and al Qaeda from the first. It is easy to see why, as the Islamic State is attempting to portray Zarqawi’s legacy as entirely its own. Zarqawi, who formally pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in 2004, had been working closely with senior al Qaeda leaders years before he officially became al Qaeda’s man in Iraq. Zarqawi is still featured in both al Qaeda’s and the Islamic State’s propaganda.

But in their retelling of Zarqawi’s and al Qaeda’s story, Shamali and the Islamic State made an odd editorial decision — odd, that is, from the perspective of a jihadist group that is trying to poach from al Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s supporters.

Shamali portrays Osama bin Laden during the 1990s in a somewhat negative light. The gist of Shamali’s argument is that bin Laden pulled his punches with respect to the Saudi monarchy and other apostate regimes. Shamali criticizes what he sees as al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 “hesitance” to declare the “apostasy” of “rulers and their armies” throughout the Muslim majority world. In Shamali’s telling, this was the main point of tension between Zarqawi and al Qaeda’s leaders prior to their formal alliance.

According to Shamali, it was not until sometime after 9/11 that bin Laden “declared the apostasy of the rulers of [Saudi Arabia] and their soldiers and the obligation to fight them in some of his addresses.” Only then did Shamali and his brethren change their view of al Qaeda “from what it was before” to a more positive opinion.

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Throughout much of their propaganda, the Islamic State’s jihadists have portrayed themselves as the true heirs of Osama bin Laden. For example, the group produced a series of videos entitled “The Establishment of the Islamic State.” In the videos, which were published in English and other languages, Baghdadi’s group attempted to undermine al Qaeda’s current leadership by revisiting the words of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, all of whom praised the Islamic State of Iraq before its expansion into Syria and rebranding as a “caliphate.” [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda attempts to undermine new Islamic State with old video of Osama bin Laden.]

By publishing Shamali’s piece, the Islamic State risks undermining its previous anti-al Qaeda propaganda efforts, which were misleading, but still had a cogent story to tell. The group also risks giving credence to its critics within the jihadist world. Citing Shamali’s piece, some of the Islamic State’s critics on Twitter have been quick to point out that Baghdadi’s followers are so extreme that they even attack the legacy of bin Laden, who remains wildly popular among the jihadists. Therefore, Shamali’s piece is not a smart attempt to win over al Qaeda’s followers.

The Islamic State takes its criticism of other jihadists a step further, as Shamali also disparages the Taliban and Deobandis in South Asia. “We also considered the Taliban in Afghanistan to have shortcomings with regards to teaching tawhid [monotheism] to their individual members,” Shamali writes of the pre-9/11 world. “This deficiency caused many of their individuals to fall into shirkī matters [polytheism, or idolatry] such as circumambulating graves and wearing amulets. And sadly, these matters exist until now.”

Shamali sees Deobandis as so deviant that he uses the word “Deobandis” as a pejorative to describe the two principal leaders of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Asim Umar and Ustad Ahmad Faruq. Al Qaeda “handed” them “the nerve center of the organization…corrupting all that was left,” Shamali writes.

The Islamic State has been trying to cut into al Qaeda’s dominant market share within the jihadist community in South Asia. But Shamali’s piece will not help the Islamic State accomplish this goal. The Deobandi ideology shares many points in common with the Salafi jihadist traditions of the Islamic State and al Qaeda, but also has some differences. Instead of emphasizing their points of commonality, or ignoring any areas of disagreement, Shamali portrays Deobandis in a wholly negative manner.

Shamali argues that al Qaeda’s efforts to “alienate” the many jihadist groups in South Asia “from the Islamic State and [to] incite them” against Baghdadi’s group “failed,” because “many” of these groups have either given their bayat (oath of allegiance) to Baghdadi “or are on their way to doing so.” However, at this juncture, there is little evidence to support Shamali’s claim. Only a select handful of jihadist commanders in South Asia have announced their allegiance to Baghdadi. The Islamic State’s blatant disrespect for the Taliban will not help it grow in the South Asian jihadist market.

Shamali also concedes that he had a bayat to both Mullah Omar and Ayman al Zawahiri before swearing his allegiance to Baghdadi, thereby breaking his previous oaths of allegiance. It is likely that many jihadists will not look upon his admission in a positive light, as Shamali will be perceived as an oath breaker.

Shamali’s revelations about al Qaeda’s structure

Shamali spent most of the period after 9/11 in Iranian custody. Shamali says he first left Jordan to wage jihad abroad sometime in 2002 or 2003, but he was detained in Iran while attempting to make his way to Afghanistan. He was released in 2010.

Shamali’s story contains multiple indications that al Qaeda’s bureaucracy continues to function despite setbacks caused by its jihadist rivals and other enemies. For instance, Shamali says that upon arriving in Miranshah, Pakistan he “wrote a message to Lajnat Bukhārā,” or “the Committee of Bukhārā – an administrative committee belonging to the leadership of” al Qaeda. Shamali says the committee was set up after al Qaeda lost two senior officials, Atiyyah Abd al Rahman and Abu Yahya al Libi, in drone strikes.

A senior al Qaeda official named Muhammad bin Mahmoud Rabie al Bahtiyti, also known as Abu Dujana al Basha, is identified as a member of the committee in Shamali’s article. The al Qaeda defector says that he met with both Bahtiyti, who has been highly critical of the Islamic State, and the unnamed leader of the Lajnat Bukhārā.

The Lajnat Bukhārā has received little to no attention in the West’s public discussions of how al Qaeda is structured, but Shamali’s story is an indication that al Qaeda still operates committees as part of its hierarchy. Shamali explains that another committee, the “Security Committee,” was “expelled from” al Qaeda, “removed from the field, and forced to remain in their homes” after it was decided that members of the committee had mishandled a controversial situation. Of course, al Qaeda must have had enough of a bureaucracy in place to hold members of the committee accountable in this fashion. And it is likely that the “Security Committee” was replaced in some capacity.

Al Qaeda decided to evacuate many jihadists from the areas of northern Pakistan where they had been holed up for years, Shamali notes, adding that they had been asked to swear allegiance to the Al Nusrah Front even before they relocated to Syria. The Al Nusrah Front, an official branch of al Qaeda, was still part of the Islamic State when al Qaeda began moving its personnel to Syria, Shamali says. He introduces this anecdote in an attempt to portray al Qaeda as scheming against the Islamic State before the two sides had their falling out. But it is further confirmation of something that we know from other sources: Al Qaeda moved personnel out of the American drones’ strike zone in northern Pakistan to safer areas.

Shamali also reveals that those al Qaeda commanders who broke their allegiance to Zawahiri were immediately cut off from al Qaeda’s payroll. Only a functioning accounting department could make such move.

Shamali confirms one of al Qaeda’s anti-Islamic State moves in Iraq. Pro-al Qaeda Twitter feeds circulated rumors earlier this year that al Qaeda was attempting to work with Ansar al Islam, a jihadist group that had long been opposed to the Islamic State and its predecessors in Iraq. Shamali purports to offer new details about this nascent alliance, saying that al Qaeda “received a representative of Ansar al Islam…for the purpose of a joint operation in Iraq with [al Qaeda] against the Islamic State.” Al Qaeda’s leaders “began facilitating for the representative to meet with Kurdish members” of al Qaeda in the Pakistani city of Miranshah “for counsel and planning.”

Shamali says this “counsel and planning was in order to gather Kurdish personnel — both military and [sharia officials] — from [al Qaeda] to assist them in training inside Afghanistan so as to operate in Iraq after passing through Iran.” Shamali points out that Ansar al Islam published a video highlighting its Sheikh Rashid Ghazi Camp, which was named after an infamous Pakistani jihadist. The video, which was posted online in early March 2014, included a clip of bin Laden praising Sheikh Ghazi.

Shamali argues that even though Ansar al Islam was marketing its adherence to al Qaeda’s ways, and meeting with al Qaeda’s senior leadership, the anti-Islamic State gambit failed. “Allah made their plot futile,” Shamali writes, “for Ansar al Islam declared their [bayat, or oath of allegiance] to the Islamic State.” At least part of Ansar al Islam issued a statement swearing allegiance to the Islamic State in the summer of 2014, while another faction remains active in Syria. There continue to be rumors suggesting that al Qaeda will be relaunching its official presence in Iraq in the near future, but that has not been confirmed.

In sum, assuming he is accurately recounting his experience in northern Pakistan, Shamali’s anti-al Qaeda diatribe actually tells us something about how Ayman al Zawahiri’s organization continues to function. We learn that al Qaeda: has set up an administrative committee known as the Lajnat Bukhārā; had a security committee in place that has been disbanded (it is natural to assume its members have been replaced); is still paying its commanders in Afghanistan and can punish wayward leaders by cutting off their stipends; ordered personnel to evacuate northern Pakistan for Syria and other areas, which we know is true from Osama bin Laden’s files and other sources; and had brought Kurdish jihadists to Pakistan for “counsel and planning.”

Thus, Shamali’s portrayal of al Qaeda is not consistent with Western claims that the group can barely function in South Asia. [emphasis added]

CAIR, MAS Join with State Department to Protest UAE Terror Designation

IPT, by John Rossomando  •  Dec 23, 2014

State Department officials met with leaders of the Hamas-linked Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to discuss the group’s inclusion on list of terror groups issued by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a CAIR news release issued Monday said.

The UAE listed CAIR and the Muslim American Society (MAS) among 80 Islamist groups worldwide it linked to terror last month. The State Department questioned the designation, saying it wanted “more information from the Emirati authorities” justifying the designation, with a spokesman adding that “the U.S. does not consider them to be terrorist organizations.”

According to CAIR’s news release, the State Department renewed its pledge to try to get the two Islamist groups removed from the UAE terror list.

It’s an example of one branch of government treating CAIR as an innocent, legitimate organization while law enforcement, backed by investigative material, takes a more skeptical view. The FBI broke off official contact with CAIR in 2008 after records seized during a terror-financing investigation placed CAIR in a network of U.S.-based organizations supporting Hamas.

Government evidence in the prosecution against the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation creates “at least a prima facie (face value) case as to CAIR’s involvement in a conspiracy to support Hamas,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Solis.

1106Meanwhile, at the same time it fights a Muslim nation’s terrorist designation, CAIR officials continue to go to bat for convicted terrorists and their enablers. Officials from CAIR’s Dallas office helped organize a protest last Saturday lamenting convicted Al-Qaida operative Aafia Siddiqui’s conditions . CAIR was joined by MAS and the Islamic Circle of North America to stand up for Siddiqui, also known as “lady al-Qaida.”

Shortly after her conviction for trying to kill two FBI agents, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri vowed to exact vengeance on her captives. Last summer,Islamic State terrorists mentioned her as part of a proposed prisoner exchange to spare the life of American journalist James Foley, who later was beheaded.

MAS, meanwhile, has its own lengthy record of defending accused terrorists and terror supporters. It was formed as the Muslim Brotherhood’s overt arm in the United States. Co-founder Abdurrahman Alamoudi, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to engaging in illegal transactions with Libya and facilitating a Libyan plot to assassinate then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, testified in 2012 that MAS’s connection with the Brotherhood cannot be disputed.

UAE officials have been adverse to the Brotherhood at least since 2013 when they accused the Islamist group of attempting to subvert its national security.

The State Department ignores this, and grants undeserved credibility to deceptive organizations like CAIR and MAS, when it agrees to challenge the UAE designations.

Also see:

Representative of Ayman al Zawahiri reportedly captured in Turkey as US Investigates Benghazi Link

This undated photo reportedly shows Abd El Basset Azzouz. (Photo: Milliyet)

This undated photo reportedly shows Abd El Basset Azzouz. (Photo: Milliyet)


An operative who was dispatched to Libya by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri was reportedly captured in Turkey and is now being held in Jordan.

A Turkish daily, the Milliyet, first reported Azzouz’s capture earlier this month. The Milliyet’s reporting was subsequently picked up by other Turkish press outlets.

Azzouz was handpicked by Zawahiri to oversee al Qaeda’s efforts in post-revolution Libya. According to the Turkish reports, Azzouz was detained in mid-November after the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Turkish authorities located him in the “summer resort” area of Yalova, which is south of Istanbul. Two laptops and a fake passport were captured along with Azzouz.

According to an account by the Washington Post, Azzouz was soon deported to Jordan, where he is currently being held.

US intelligence officials are investigating Azzouz’s potential ties to the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. If he did have a role in the assault, during which four Americans were killed, then his involvement would be yet another strong piece of evidence pointing to the culpability of al Qaeda’s international network.

Fighters from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), two formal branches of al Qaeda, are known to have taken part in the Benghazi attack. Both AQAP and AQIM are openly loyal to Zawahiri.

Members of the so-called Mohammad Jamal Network (MJN) were present among the attackers. The MJN, as it is known by Western counterterrorism officials, was founded by Mohammad Jamal, an Egyptian who was first trained by al Qaeda in the 1980s. Like the leaders of AQAP and AQIM, Jamal swore a bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri.

Fighters from Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked group based in Libya, were also among the jihadists who stormed the embassy. There is abundant evidence tying Ansar al Sharia to al Qaeda’s network and these ties have been formally recognized by the United Nations. [For more on the various al Qaeda groups responsible for the Benghazi attack, see LWJ reports, Senate report: Terrorists ‘affiliated’ with multiple al Qaeda groups involved in Benghazi attack and UN recognizes ties between Ansar al Sharia in Libya, al Qaeda.]

Zawahiri’s man in Libya

In September, the State Department added Azzouz to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists. Azzouz “has had a presence in Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, and Libya.”

State noted that Azzouz “was sent to Libya in 2011 by al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri to build a fighting force there, and mobilized approximately 200 fighters.” Azzouz “is considered a key operative capable of training al Qaeda recruits in a variety of skills,” such as building improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The designation of Azzouz confirmed some of the details previously reported by CNN, as well as by an analysis shop in the Defense Department.

An unclassified report published in August 2012 highlights al Qaeda’s strategy for building a fully operational network in Libya, and it identified Azzouz as playing a key role in these plans. The report (“Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile”) was prepared by the federal research division of the Library of Congress under an agreement with the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO).

The report’s authors noted that Azzouz had been sent to Libya by Zawahiri and has been close to the al Qaeda leader “since 1980.” Azzouz “first visited Afghanistan in the 1990s to join the mujahedin fight against the Soviet occupation.” In Libya, according to the CTTSO report, Azzouz “has been operating at least one training center” and has hundreds of men under his command. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s plan for Libya highlighted in congressional report.]

It is not clear what Azzouz was specifically doing in Turkey at the time of his capture. Turkey is a known crossroads for al Qaeda operatives, including those dispatched by al Qaeda’s senior leadership and fighters seeking to join the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria.

AQAP rejects Islamic State’s ‘caliphate,’ blasts group for sowing dissent among jihadists

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Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an official branch of al Qaeda, has released a video rejecting the Islamic State’s announced caliphate and chastising the group for sowing discord among jihadists.

The newly-released video stars Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari, a senior AQAP sharia official, who responds directly to a Nov. 13 speech made by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State. The video is titled, “A Statement about What was Contained in the Speech of Sheikh Abu Bakr al Baghdadi ‘Even If the Disbelievers Despise Such’,” and was first translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

In addition to rebuking Baghdadi and the Islamic State, Nadhari also renews AQAP’s bayat (oath of allegiance) to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, and affirms Zawahiri’s oath to Taliban chieftain Mullah Omar. Nadhari says “it is known” that al Qaeda “has had a pledge of allegiance to Mullah Omar…for nearly twenty years.”

Al Qaeda has previously countered Baghdadi’s claim to rule as “Caliph Ibrahim I” by implying that Omar is the rightful caliph and, unlike Baghdadi, has the broad support of recognized jihadist authorities.

Nadhari begins by saying that AQAP “did not want to talk about the current dispute and the fitna [sedition]” in Syria given that the jihadists are in a “sensitive stage in which the enemies of Islam” have “gathered together to fight” the entire Islamic ummah [worldwide community of Muslims].

“This war was and still is a Crusader war against all the honest mujahideen,” Nadhari says, according to SITE’s translation. “We took the position incumbent upon us to support our brothers with what we can, and we still hold to that position, as we believe in the necessity to support our mujahideen brothers, including all of their groups and entities, regardless of their inclinations.”

However, according to Nadhari, the Islamic State has made it impossible to remain silent.

Read more at Long War Journal

Discussions of Broad ISIS- al-Qaeda Merger Overblown

Baghdadizawahiri (1)CSP, By Matt Bauer:

Al- Qaida disavowed ISIS (formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq or AQI) officially back in February 2014 after months of infighting due to ideological disagreements and a dwindling influence over ISIS leadership. Since the split between the organizations, the regional influence, recruitment, and military capabilities of ISIS have increased exponentially in a very small time frame. ISIS became a household name overnight and began to challenge al-Qaida’s long standing supremacy over the global jihadi movement, attracting a new and more radical youth generation to its ranks.

Sporadic clashes between ISIS and the Syrian al-Qaida group Jabhat al-Nusra have been occurring within Syria since the split but there’s some indication that this has changed. Recently, US intelligence and military officials have been closely monitoring the interactions between ISIS and al-Qaida groups within Syria and have noticed a change in posture. There is increasing concern that the formerly feuding groups are beginning to cooperate with one another as a result of the U.S. bombing campaign that began in September. For example, Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaida) fighters were just supported by ISIS militants in an effort that has effectively destroyed the U.S. backed SRF (Syrian Revolutionary Front).

So far the truces have been occurring sporadically in Syria and initiated only by local group leaders from both sides. The decreasing violence between ISIS and al-Qaida has been facilitated by calls to reconcile their differences and join forces to attack the West in response to the coalition airstrikes. Although this trend is concerning, there has been no indication that larger plans for any broad cooperation has been or is being discussed by the leadership of either organization.

The reluctance of ISIS and al-Qaida leadership to reconcile is important to note before jumping to any nightmare conclusions of the two groups merging back together. One of the reasons why an officially sanctioned merger between ISIS and al-Qaida is unlikely at this point is because the leaders of these organizations, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (ISIS) and Ayman al-Zawahiri (al-Qaida) remain completely at odds with one another.

These two leaders are unlikely to ever agree to a merger because they would not be able to share a leadership role. One group would have to be absorbed into another yet both ISIS and al-Qaida have established a recognizable brand name and would not be willing to give that up. The major reason why an official merger is unlikely is due to the fact that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared himself caliph, leader of the newly established IslamicCaliphate. In his mind and in the minds of his followers, this makes him the leader of all Muslims around the world and requires them to pledge their allegiance to him, including Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Zawahiri nor other high-ranking al-Qaida leaders accept this declaration and would never subordinate themselves under Baghdadi who essentially used to be one of  Zawahiri’s employees. Zawahiri is a highly respected figure within global jihad and before the rise of ISIS and Baghdadi, he was the de facto leader of the movement. Approaching  Baghdadi for reconciliation would greatly damage his reputation and add to Baghdadi’s legitimacy. Baghdadi approaching Zawahiri for cooperation would make him seem weak and make his followers question his supremacy as the leader of the Muslim world.

Baghdadi also openly defied Zawahiri during the months of infighting that inevitably lead to ISIS being disavowed by al-Qaida. Baghdadi’s actions demonstrated tremendous disrespect to Zawahiri and al-Qaida leadership and will not likely be forgotten any time soon. The only circumstance in which it becomes possible for the two groups to join forces against the West would be if one of these leaders is killed. The death of Zawahiri anytime soon is a longshot since he is well hidden in the tribal regions of Pakistan. However, due to Baghdadi’s location and current popularity with the U.S. and coalition militaries, it is much more likely that he will be killed first.

The death of Baghdadi would give al-Qaida a chance reconcile and possibly re-establish control over ISIS as one of their regional players. Yet even in the event of Baghdadi’s death, it is still unlikely that the remaining ISIS leadership would agree to a merger. They have already established a brand name on their own and no longer need the al-Qaida stamp. ISIS already has its own established networks and funding, essentially limiting the benefits of re-joining al-Qaida.

No matter how the situation develops, I cannot see these groups sharing control in a merger. One group will have to be under the other and neither group would be willing to make that compromise. As long as Baghdadi still breathes, the cooperation between ISIS and al-Qaida will remain localized within certain areas of Syria only as a temporary agreement of convenience.

Also see:

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi: From Terrorist Commander to Religious Icon

abu-bakr-al-baghdadiBlind Eagle, By Brian Fairchild:

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s power to motivate and attract tens of thousands of radicalized Muslims is largely based on the fact that he has transcended the role of a terrorist commander and has become an Islamic religious and political icon – the new “Caliph” of the re-established “Caliphate”. 

He doesn’t claim to be a prophet, but he claims nothing less than to be the rightful political and religious heir to the Prophet Muhammad, and he often draws parallels between himself and Muhammad and other prophets, to support these claims and to legitimize his strict religious ideology.

On July 5, 2014, al-Baghdadi made his video debut at the Great Mosque of al-Nouri in Mosul, Iraq wearing Islamic garb and sporting a long beard, and he made a speech that was carefully crafted to draw parallels between himself and Muhammad.  The speech occurred during the Muslim month of Ramadan, and so he began his comments by stating that “Ramadan is a month to wage jihad”, noting that the Prophet Muhammad fought many battles against the “polytheists” during this month.

The implications of this reference sent a particularly potent message to radical Muslims because they know that Muhammad led Islam’s two most important battles during Ramadan – the very first battle, called the Battle of Badr, and the Battle of Mecca.  According to Islamic history, Muhammad faced overwhelming odds in his battle with the powerful Quraysh tribe at the desert oasis of Badr, but was victorious because of Allah’s divine intervention.  At the subsequent Battle of Mecca, he defeated the Quraysh with an Army of 10,000.  The city fell with almost no resistance.  The victory at Mecca consolidated Muhammad’s power and caused the surrounding tribes to join him.  The few remaining opposing tribes were quickly subdued.

The parallels to al-Baghdadi are unmistakable.  As he spoke at the Great Mosque of al-Nouri his total force was estimated to be around 10,000, the same number Muhammad fielded in the Battle of Mecca.  Like Muhammad, he emerged out of the desert and, against all odds, defeated a much larger and better equipped enemy, causing many to flee without firing a shot.  He consolidated his power by creating the “caliphate”, and the surrounding tribes joined him.  Finally, he proclaimed that these victories were only possible because he and his troops “have been bestowed upon by Allah to achieve victory” – divine intervention. 

The comparisons continue.  In the Islamic State’s September 21, 2014 statement, al Baghdadi calls Muslims to emulate the Prophet Muhammad’s historic hijrah (emigration) from Mecca to Medina by emigrating from their homes to defend the new Islamic State.  He proclaims that the coming fight with America is a decisive moment in Islamic history (just as Muhammad’s fight was) – a moment in which the fate of all Muslims hang in the balance, and he exhorts Muslims to rise to their brothers’ defense because:

  • “They are facing a battle which is of the decisive, critical battles in the history of Islam. If the Muslims are defeated, they will be humiliated in such a manner that no humiliation compares to. And if the Muslims are victorious – and this will be the case by Allah’s permission – they will be honored with all honor by which the Muslims will return to being the masters of the world and kings of the earth…”[1]

These comparisons resonate deeply in Salafi-jihadis who believe that there is no higher religious calling than to emulate the Prophet Muhammad’s methodology to establish Allah’s religion on earth, and this is precisely what al Baghdadi calls them to do.  He emphasizes their piousness by stating that he sees “the Quran walking alive amongst” them, and then unambiguously tells them that they are directly following in Muhammad’s footsteps:

  • “O soldiers of the Islamic State and its sons everywhere, listen and comprehend. If the people belie you, reject your state and your call, and mock your caliphate, then know that your Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) was belied. His call was rejected. He was mocked. If your people fight you, accuse you with the worst of accusations, and describe you with the worst of all traits, then know that the people of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) fought him, expelled him, and accused him with matters worse than those you have been accused with.  If the parties have gathered against you, then know they gathered against your Prophet before (blessings and peace be upon him).”[2]

Muslim traditions tell how the pious Muhammad was able to overcome vastly superior military forces because of Allah’s divine intervention on his behalf, and thus, in the September 21, 2014 statement, al Baghdadi tells his followers that, because of their piousness and strict religious observance, Allah is on their side and that victory against America is assured because Allah wills it:

  • “Allah has given you might and honor after your humiliation. He has made you rich after your poverty. And He has aided you despite your weakness and small numbers. He showed you that victory is from Him, the Glorified.He grants it to whomever He wills and whenever He wills…Therefore Allah will give you victory. Indeed, Allah will give you victory. By Allah, Allah will give you victory…So know that – by Allah – we fear not the swarms of planes, nor ballistic missiles, nor drones, nor satellites, nor battleships, nor weapons of mass destruction. How could we fear them, while Allah the Exalted has said: ‘If Allah should aid you, no one can overcome you; but if He should forsake you, who is there that can aid you after Him? And upon Allah let the believers rely” – Qur’an Chapter 3: Verse 160.

In addition to drawing parallels between himself and the Prophet Muhammad, al Baghdadi also uses the Prophet Noah to legitimize his particularly severe religious rule.  In the second issue of his official publication Dabiq magazine titled The Flood , al Baghdadi uses the story of Noah and the Ark to legitimize his demand that Muslims live according to a strict literal interpretation of Sharia law.  In the article, the Prophet Noah is described as an uncompromising prophet who gave his people a single, but profound, choice:

  • “He didn’t say to them, for example: “I have come to you with the truth, and your leaders are calling you to falsehood, so you are free to choose whether to follow me or to follow your leaders.” In fact, he didn’t even say anything to the effect of: “If you follow me then you would be correct, and if you follow your leaders then you would be mistaken.” Nor did he say anything to the effect of: “If you follow me you will be saved, and if you oppose me and follow your leaders then your reckoning is with Allah, and I have done what is required of me and you are free to choose.” Rather, he told them with full clarity:  “It’s either me or the flood.”[3]  The parallel between Noah and al Baghdadi couldn’t be more obvious, especially given the fact that the Dabiq article was titled:  It’s Either the Islamic State or the Flood.

It is al Baghdadi’s uncompromising religious belief that is the very crux of the jihadi civil war between al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri’s Jahbat al Nusra (also called the Nusra Front), and al Baghdadi’s Islamic State.

Al Baghdadi is much more religiously zealous and demanding than Zawahiri.  Zawahiri is flexible and pragmatic in matters of ideology, preferring to slowly and carefully educate the Muslim community to accept Sharia law, and he is willing to form pragmatic alliances with non-jihadi organizations to further al Qaeda’s interests.

Al Baghdadi, on the other hand, has no such tolerance for coddling the Muslim masses or working with infidels, believing rather that it is his mission to confront Muslims, including Zawahiri and the Nusra Front, on matters of religion:

  • “it’s upon us…to eradicate the principle of “free choice,” and to not deceive the people in an attempt to seek their pleasure…Rather, we must confront them with the fact that they’ve turned away from the religion…and that we’re completely ready to stand in the face of anyone who attempts to divert us from our commitmentto making the religion of Allah triumphant over all other religions, and that we will continue to fight the people of deviation and misguidance until we die trying to make the religion triumphant.”[4]

That al Baghdadi and his followers have drawn this religious line in the sand against al Qaeda is documented by the following developments:

In late April 2014, a group of nine al Qaeda emirs from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran defected from al Qaeda to the Islamic State.  They justified their defection by indirectly accusing Zawahiri and the al-Nusra Front of infidelity and apostasy:

  • “the forces of infidelity and apostasy quickly sowed the seeds of hypocrisy, using new groups under Islamic sounding names to be a rival and an obstacle to the Islamic state…the group did not have any courage to enforce judgments over those who disobey sharia, under the pretext of avoiding a clash with the people or due to their inability and incapacity…”

A few days later, al Baghdadi’s spokesman, Sheikh Muhammad al-Adnani, echoed these sentiments stating:

  • “Al Qaeda, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Khorasan, deviated from the rightful course…It is not a dispute about who to kill or who to give your allegiance. It is a question of religious practices being distorted and an approach veering off the right path.”

In The Flood, al Baghdadi specifically criticized the Nusra Front and Zawahiri for regularly breaking Sharia law in matters of religion and by forging alliances with organizations the Islamic State considers to be infidel, such as the Syrian National Coalition and the Islamic Front, and for justifying this religious laxity as a pragmatic and temporary necessity for “the sake of Jihad”.[5]

Also in The Flood, al Baghdadi quotes Salafi scholar Ibnul Qayyim who said:  “The pillars of kufr (religious infidelity) are four:  arrogance, envy, anger, and desire”, and then al Baghdadi goes on to accuse al Qaeda of all four:

  • “Whoever wants to know how a mujāhid (jihad) group fī sabīlillah (for Allah) becomes a militant group fighting fī sabīlit-tāghūt (for corrupt regimes) then let him review history, and let him know that a man’s love for leadership,wealth, and personal opinion becomes pride. Pride becomes envy. Envy becomes arrogance. Arrogance becomes hatred. Hatred becomes enmity. Enmity becomes contradiction of the rival.[6]

So confident is he in his religious superiority that in March 2014, al Baghdadi challenged the Nusra Front, to Mubahala – an Islamic ritual that implores Allah to choose between two rival factions by showing his favor for one while cursing the other.  In Muslim tradition, the repeated military success of one of the parties can only occur if Allah wills it, and al Baghdadi believes that his series of successes proves that Allah has chosen the Islamic State over the Nusra Front as the winner.

Analysts frequently try to explain why so many radicalized Muslims flock to Iraq and Syria.  The reasons they stipulate often include that these misguided Muslims are simply alienated youth, thrill seekers, or are attracted by “jihad cool”.  In actual fact, Salafi-jihadi fighters are religious zealots, and they are attracted to al Baghdadi as their religious and political leader precisely because he is seen by them to be the active defender of what they consider to be “true” Islam.  Tens of thousands have already performed hijrah to embrace his religious and political leadership, and this number can be expected to grow exponentially as al Baghdadi continues to “defend” Islam.

Brian Fairchild bio.

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.