Islamic State destroys mosque where Baghdadi delivered first speech as ‘caliph’

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi delivering his first speech as “Caliph Ibrahim” at the Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul in July 2014.

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, June 21, 2017:

The Iraqi government announced today that the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul has been destroyed. US Central Command (CENTCOM) subsequently released a statement accusing the Islamic State of demolishing the holy site.

The demolition of Al-Nuri is a milestone in the war against Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate. Baghdadi delivered his first sermon as “Caliph Ibrahim” from the pulpit at Al-Nuri on July 4, 2014. Just days earlier, Baghdadi’s spokesman, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, had declared that the group ruled over a caliphate stretching throughout large parts of Iraq and Syria.

“As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the Al-Nuri mosque, ISIS destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, Commanding General of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a statement. “This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organization must be annihilated.”

“The responsibility of this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of ISIS,” Martin said, “and we continue to support our Iraqi partners as they bring these terrorists to justice.” Martin warned that the “battle for the liberation of Mosul is not yet complete, and we remain focused on supporting the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] with that objective in mind.”

Via its Amaq News Agency, the Islamic State tried to blame coalition airstrikes for the mosque’s destruction. The statement, seen below, was released online earlier today.

However, there is no evidence indicating that the US-led coalition bombed the mosque, which was built centuries ago. Its iconic minaret, nicknamed “the hunchback,” famously leaned to one side.

Iraqi government sources have circulated images from the moments after the Islamic State detonated its explosives in the mosque.

Baghdadi’s speech at Al-Nuri was a seminal moment in the history of his group. He used the pulpit to call on Muslims around the world to join the new state.

“So let the world know that we are living today in a new era,” Baghdadi said. “Therefore, rush O Muslims to your state,” he argued later in the speech. “Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis.”

“The State is a state for all Muslims,” Baghdadi continued. “The land is for the Muslims, all the Muslims. O Muslims everywhere, whoever is capable of performing hijrah [emigration] to the Islamic State, then let him do so, because hijrah to the land of Islam is obligatory.”

The Islamic State leader made a “special” plea for assistance from scholars, judges, doctors, engineers, military personnel, as well as those with “administrative and service expertise” and “all different specializations.” He wanted all of these types of skilled individuals to emigrate to the lands of his caliphate.

During his sermon at Al-Nuri, Baghdadi also emphasized his organization’s uncompromising jihad against everyone else. He argued that the world “has been divided into two camps and two trenches…[t]he camp of Islam and faith, and the camp of kufr (disbelief) and hypocrisy.” The former is supposedly “the camp of the Muslims and the mujahidin everywhere,” while the latter is “the camp of the Jews, the Crusaders, their allies, and with them the rest of the nations and religions of kufr, all being led by America and Russia, and being mobilized by the Jews.”

The Islamic State’s early motto was “remaining and expanding.” It was intended to convey a sense of indefinite territorial expansion and permanence. But the group’s propagandists quietly began to de-emphasize this idea as the jihadists lost ground in Iraq and Syria.

The demolition of Al-Nuri underscores the fact that Baghdadi’s loyalists are not holding their turf. Instead, they have proven their willingness to burn to the ground even holy sites rather than let their enemies capture them intact.

The destruction of Al-Nuri prevents the Iraqi government from issuing its own statement from the mosque. Baghdadi’s foes could have broadcast his caliphate’s loss of the important site. While no such message can now be made from Al-Nuri, the Islamic State’s violation of the mosque presents the coalition with another opportunity, as it can highlight the jihadists’ lack of respect for a holy location they themselves once portrayed as being at the center of a history-changing event.

Al Qaeda and its allies have chosen not to pursue the Islamic State’s all or nothing approach to holding territory. For example, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) avoided a fight for Mukallah in southern Yemen last year, arguing that a battle with Arab-led forces would leave the port city in shambles.

A coalition led by Al Nusrah Front, which was openly part of al Qaeda at the time, also overran the Syrian province of Idlib in early 2015. The jihadists and Islamists have held Idlib for more than two years since, often debating how to make sure they don’t lose it. They are trying to avoid the mistakes made by Baghdadi’s men, who are in the process of losing their two capitals in Iraq and Syria. While an international coalition was assembled to dislodge the Islamic State, no such force has been formed to uproot the jihadists deeply embedded in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria. The jihadists in northwestern Syria have sought to sow confusion when it comes to their own proto-Taliban state.

Baghdadi took the opposite course, calling on the whole world to recognize his Islamic State.

“O Muslims everywhere, glad tidings to you and expect good,” Baghdadi said during his sermon at Al-Nuri in July 2014. “Raise your head high, for today – by Allah’s grace – you have a state and Khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership.”

Nearly three years later, Baghdadi’s followers leveled Al-Nuri to the ground.

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

Forty-Four Dead Christians: Islam’s Latest Victims

The real driving force behind Sunday’s church bombings in Egypt.

Front Page Magazine, by Raymond Ibrahim, April 10, 2017:

Egypt’s Christians started Holy Week celebrations by being blown up yesterday.  Two Coptic Christian Orthodox churches packed with worshippers for Palm Sunday mass were attacked by Islamic suicide bombers; a total of 44 were killed and 126 wounded and mutilated.

Horrific scenes of carnage—limbs and blood splattered on altars and pews—are being reported from both churches.   Twenty-seven people—initial reports indicate mostly children—were killed in St. George’s in Tanta, north Egypt.  “Where is the government?” yelled an angry Christian there to AP reporters. “There is no government! There was a clear lapse in security, which must be tightened from now on to save lives.”

Less than two hours later, 17 people were killed in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, which—since the original church building founded by the Evangelist Mark in the first century was burned to the ground during the 7th  century Muslim invasions of Egypt—has been the historic seat of Coptic Christendom.  Pope Tawadros, who was present—and apparently targeted—evaded the carnage.

In death toll and severity, Sunday’s bombings surpass what was formerly considered the deadliest church attack in Egypt: less than four months ago, on Sunday, December 11, 2016, an Islamic suicide bomber entered the St. Peter Cathedral in Cairo during mass, detonated himself and killed at least 27 worshippers—mostly women and children—and wounded nearly 70.  Descriptions of scenes from that bombing are virtually identical to those coming from Egypt now: “I found bodies, many of them women, lying on the pews. It was a horrible scene.  I saw a headless woman being carried away.  Everyone was in a state of shock. We were scooping up people’s flesh off the floor.  There were children. What have they done to deserve this? I wish I had died with them instead of seeing these scenes.”

Before the December 11 attack, the deadliest church bombing occurred on January 1, 2011.  Then, while ushering in the New Year, 23 Christians were blown to bits.

The Islamic state claims both December 11’s and yesterday’s bombings. (Because there was no “Islamic State” around in 2011, only generic “Islamics” can claim that one.)  This uptick in Christian persecution is believed to be in response to a video recently released by the Islamic State in Sinai.  In it, masked militants promised more attacks on the “worshipers of the cross,” a reference to the Copts of Egypt, whom they also referred to as their “favorite prey” and—in a bit of classic Muslim projection—as the “infidels who are empowering the West against Muslim nations.”

It should be remembered that for every successful church bomb attack in Egypt, there are numerous failed or “too-insignificant-to-report” ones.   Thus, in the week before yesterday’s bombings, an explosive device was found by St. George’s in Tanta and dismantled in time.  Before that, another bomb was found planted at the Collège Saint Marc, an all-boys school in downtown Alexandria.  Similarly, a couple of weeks before December 11’s church bombing, a man hurled an improvised explosive at another church in Samalout.  Had that bomb detonated—it too was dismantled in time—casualties would likely have been very high, as the church was packed with thousands of worshippers congregating for a special holiday service.  In a separate December incident, Islamic slogans and messages of hate—including “you will die Christians”—were painted on the floor of yet another church, that of the Virgin Mary in Damietta.

Yesterday’s church bombings also follow a spate of murderous hate crimes against Christians throughout Egypt in recent weeks and month—crimes that saw Copts burned alive and slaughtered on busy streets and in broad daylight and displaced from the Sinai.  In a video of these destitute Copts, one man can be heard saying “They are burning us alive! They seek to exterminate Christians altogether!  Where’s the [Egyptian] military?”  Another woman yells at the camera, “Tell the whole world, look—we’ve left our homes, and why? Because they kill our children, they kill our women, they kill our innocent people!  Why? Our children are terrified to go to schools.  Why? Why all this injustice?!  Why doesn’t the president move and do something for us?  We can’t even answer our doors without being terrified!” (Note: Donations that go directly to Egypt’s persecuted and displaced Copts can be made here).

In response to yesterday’s church bombings, President Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency, adding in a statement that such attacks will only strengthen the resolve of Egyptians against “evil forces.” For his part, President Trump tweeted that he is “so sad to hear of the terrorist attack” but that he has “great confidence” that Sisi “will handle the situation properly.”

Sisi further said in his statement that “Egyptians have foiled plots and efforts by countries and fascist, terrorist organizations that tried to control Egypt.”

But what of what happens right inside of Egypt?  Is Sisi “handl[ing] the situation properly” there?  Whether those terrorizing Coptic Christians are truly card-holding members of ISIS or are mere sympathizers, the fact is they are all homegrown in Egypt—all taught to hate “infidels” in the mosques and schools of Egypt.

Sisi himself openly acknowledged this in 2015 when he stood before Egypt’s Islamic clerics of Al Azhar and implored them to do something about how Islam is taught to Muslims.  Among other things, Sisi said that the “corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries” are  “antagonizing the entire world” and that Egypt (or the Islamic world in its entirety) “is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”

Just how seriously his words were taken was revealed last November when Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb—who appeared sitting in the front row during Sisi’s 2015 speech—defended Al Azhar’s reliance on that very same “corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas … sacralized over the centuries” which many reformers are eager to see eliminated from Egypt’s curriculum because they support the most “radical” expressions of Islam—including killing apostates, burning infidels, persecuting Christians and destroying churches.

Egypt’s Grand Imam went so far as to flippantly dismiss the call to reform as quixotic at best:

When they [Sisi and reformers] say that Al Azhar must change the religious discourse, change the religious discourse, this too is, I mean, I don’t know—a new windmill that just appeared, this “change religious discourse”—what change religious discourse?  Al Azhar doesn’t change religious discourse—Al Azhar proclaims the true religious discourse, which we learned from our elders.

And the law that the elders of Islam, the ulema, bequeathed to Muslims preaches hate for “infidels”—which, in Egypt, means Christians.  This is Egypt’s ultimate problem, not, to quote Sisi, foreign “countries and fascist, terrorist organizations,” which are symptoms of the problem.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a CBN News contributor. He is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007). 

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Analysis: Islamic State claims historically high number of suicide attacks in 2016

17-01-01-is-claims-107-martyrdom-operations-in-iraq-and-syria-in-dec-2016-768x545Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, January 3, 2017:

The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency claims that the so-called caliphate carried out at least 1,141 “martyrdom operations” (suicide attacks) in Iraq, Syria and Libya in 2016. The overwhelming majority of these, 1,112 in all, were launched in Iraq and Syria.

On Jan. 1, Amaq posted an infographic (seen on the right) summarizing 107 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria for the month of Dec. 2016. As The Long War Journal repeatedly documented last year, Amaq produces a similar image each month. The total for all twelve months of 2016 is 1,141 suicide bombings, including 29 in Libya.

If Amaq’s figures are accurate, then the Islamic State set a new record high for suicide attacks in 2016. Indeed, the scale of such operations is incredible, even by the standards of modern jihadist organizations. For example, the Taliban claims that its members were responsible for just 32 “martyrdom” attacks during the same time frame.

17-01-03-1112-martyrdom-operations-carried-out-by-fighters-of-the-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-syria-in-2016-768x432Earlier today, Amaq also published an infographic (seen on the right) summarizing the group’s 1,112 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria. The majority of these, 761 (or 68 percent), were aimed at Iraqi government forces or Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. The infographics do not separately list those bombings that targeted Iranian-backed Shiite militias that fight alongside the Iraqi government.

Kurdish fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), were the second most frequent target of the Islamic State’s “martyrs.” According to Amaq, 135 such operations targeted the PKK/YPG. Most of these took place in northern Syria, where the two sides have been engaged in heavy fighting. The PKK is a US-designated terrorist organization. The YPG has helped deliver some of the Islamic State’s biggest losses since 2014, including in Kobane.

Another 133 suicide bombers struck fighters loyal to Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria. The two sides frequently clash in the Homs and Deir Ezzor provinces. The Islamic State also carried out high-profile “martyrdom” operations against the Syrian regime elsewhere in 2016 as well.

The remaining 83 “martyrs” were deployed against Turkey’s armed forces and allied rebel organizations in northern Syria. Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August and quickly claimed territory from the so-called caliphate along the border. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists have been trying to stymie the Turkish-led offensive on Al Bab, a town in the northern part of Syria’s Aleppo province, and some of the bombings took place in the neighboring villages.

The Islamic State has become particularly adept at using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). According to Amaq, 797 of the 1,112 suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria in 2016 relied on VBIEDs. Another 18 were dual operations involving vehicles. Therefore, fully 73 percent of the bombings used VBIEDs. The remaining suicide operations used explosive belts (214), bomb vests (82), or a motor bike (1).

The Long War Journal has noticed a small discrepancy in Amaq’s reporting. The Islamic State’s propaganda arm listed suicide attacks in Libya on several of its monthly infographics in 2016, but stopped doing so in the latter third of the year. For instance, Amaq separately reported that tanks and various other vehicles belonging to General Khalifa Haftar’s men were destroyed in “a martyrdom operation in the customs zone west of Benghazi” on Dec. 18. However, this bombing is not listed on Amaq’s infographic for December (seen above). This means that some suicide attacks reported by Amaq in Libya, as well as elsewhere, are not included in the organization’s tallies. The infographic tallying 1,112 suicide attacks in 2016 excludes Libya entirely.

The battle for Mosul

In October, the US military, Iraqi government, Kurdish forces, Iranian-backed militias and others began an offensive to retake Mosul, which is located in Nineveh province. Mosul is one of the Islamic State’s two de facto capitals, so it is unsurprising that the group has dispatched an incredible number of suicide bombers in its defense of the city.

In fact, according to Amaq, 220 “martyrdom operations” were carried out during the first ten weeks of the battle for Mosul. The bombings during this ten week period, which began in mid-October and ended on Dec. 26, account for nearly 20 percent of the claimed suicide attacks in 2016 across Iraq and Syria combined.

The figure for the battle of Mosul is based on separate infographics produced by Amaq specifically for the fight in and around the city. The infographics for the first seven weeks of the battle for Mosul were previously reproduced by FDD’s Long War Journal. [See: “Islamic State defends Mosul with dozens of suicide bombers” and “Islamic State has claimed more than 1,000 suicide attacks thus far in 2016.”] The infographics for weeks eight through ten of the battle can be seen below.

Claiming suicide bombings at a historically high rate

As The Long War Journal has previously reported, the Islamic State claims to have carried out suicide bombings at a historically high rate in 2016.

Amaq’s infographics indicate that the group launched an average of 93 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria per month throughout the year. This figure does not include the suicide bombings in Libya and elsewhere, which would only make the average even higher.

According to open source data compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), all terrorist organizations around the globe carried out 906 (76 per month) suicide attacks in 2015 and 739 (62 per month) in 2014. The year 2015 was the previous high water mark for suicide bombings. Many of those attacks in 2014 and 2015 were orchestrated by the Islamic State, but other organizations’ “martyrs” are included in the totals as well.

Therefore, the Islamic State’s figures suggest that the organization set a new record for suicide bombings in 2016 all by itself.

However, there are important caveats to keep in mind when assessing Amaq’s claims.

First, it is not possible to validate the total figures provided by Amaq. The Islamic State propaganda arm does post individual claims for many of the “martyrdom operations” tallied on its infographics. These statements indicate a location and target for each “martyr,” but this is not independent verification as it comes from the same source (Amaq). Furthermore, while open source reporting corroborates many such operations, it is unlikely that all of the suicide attacks are tracked in publicly-available sources. The fog of war often makes it difficult to document the precise details of bombings in chaotic war zones.

The identities of many of these attackers are not known. The Islamic State has used children or adolescents in at least some of its “martyrdom operations.” Such young people cannot be truly considered willing “martyrs.”

Some suicide bombers fail to reach their intended targets, but are probably included in Amaq’s totals anyway. Press reports have detailed how many Islamic State operatives fail to hit their mark prior to blowing themselves up. The US and its allies often destroy VBIEDs before they can do any damage.

It is also possible that Amaq exaggerates the efficacy of the group’s “martyrdom operations” by overstating the casualties caused and the total number of targets destroyed (including enemy vehicles) in the resulting explosions.

Most of the Islamic State’s suicide bombings are now defensive in nature, meaning that a large number of “martyrs” are being deployed as the caliphate’s grip on territory loosens. This can be seen in and around Mosul, north of Raqqa, Syria as well as in Sirte, Libya. All three cities are considered key to the Islamic State’s caliphate claim. As the group’s hold on Sirte began to slip during the summer of 2016, for example, the jihadists used a number of suicide bombers to slow their enemies’ approach. Eventually, Sirte fell to local Libyan forces backed by the US and its Western allies anyway. The same methods are being employed around Mosul and north of Raqqa.

It is also important to remember that suicide attacks are just one of the many tactics employed by the Islamic State.

Still, there is no question that Baghdadi’s men are relying on suicide bombers at a remarkable pace.

If Amaq’s data are accurate, the two months that witnessed the most suicide bombings by Baghdadi’s operation were October (120) and November (132). September saw the fewest suicide attacks with 53, according to Amaq.

Amaq News Agency’s infographics for weeks eight through ten of the battle for Mosul:

16-12-13-8b-eigth-week-of-the-battle-of-mosul-arabic-1-1024x576

16-12-21-9b-ninth-week-of-the-battle-of-mosul-1024x576

16-12-28-10b-the-tenth-week-of-the-battle-of-mosul-arabic-1024x576

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

Islamic State claims responsibility for New Year’s Day attack at Istanbul nightclub

Medics and security officials work at the scene after an attack at a popular nightclub in Istanbul, early Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. Turkey's state-run news agency says an armed assailant has opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year's celebrations, wounding several people.(IHA via AP)

Medics and security officials work at the scene after an attack at a popular nightclub in Istanbul, early Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. Turkey’s state-run news agency says an armed assailant has opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations, wounding several people.(IHA via AP)

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, January 2, 2017:

The Islamic State released a statement earlier today claiming responsibility for the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey during the early hours of New Year’s Day. At least 39 people were killed and dozens more wounded in the massacre. Many of the victims were foreign tourists, according to local media reports.

The so-called caliphate says that its “hero soldier” assaulted one of Turkey’s “most famous nightclubs,” because it is a location where “Christians celebrate their pagan holiday.” The jihadist group also attempts to justify the attack by portraying Turkey as a “protector of the cross” and accusing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government of spilling the “blood of Muslims” with its planes and guns. This is likely a reference to Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria, where its forces and allied rebel groups fight Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men on a daily basis. Of course, most of the Islamic State’s victims are Muslims, meaning its accusation against Turkey is hollow. Many of the victims at Reina were likely Muslims as well.

The Islamic State had been reticent to claim responsibility for attacks inside Turkey. Although a number of operations are thought to be the work of its men, including the June 2016 attack on the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, the group didn’t own any of them via its prolific propaganda machine. That began to change in early Nov. 2016, when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi called on his followers to strike inside Turkey. The Islamic State’s thinking likely changed after Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield was launched. Turkish forces and their allies have successfully claimed territory from the caliphate in northern Syria.

During his speech in November, Baghdadi claimed that Turkey had revealed its true agenda by entering the war. He argued that the Turks have taken advantage of the fact that the Islamic State has been distracted by the “war against the infidel nations” and has been forced to defend its territory. For these reasons, Baghdadi told his followers to “attack” Turkey and bring the country into their “conflict.” Baghdadi also likened “infidel” Turkish soldiers to dogs and called on the caliphate’s “soldiers” to spill their blood. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s ‘grand jihad’ against the world.]

Within hours of Baghdadi’s speech, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a car bombing in southeastern Turkey. This was the group’s first high-profile claim of responsibility for a terrorist operation inside the country. Turkish authorities quickly blamed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a US-designated terrorist organization, for the explosion. It is possible that Kurdish terrorists did carry out the bombing. Still, the Islamic State’s claim was important because it signaled a new willingness to publicly lash out at Turkey.

The Islamic State’s new spokesman, Abu al Hassan al Muhajir, continued with Baghdadi’s anti-Turkey theme in his first message, which was released in early December. Muhajir accused Turkey of serving “Crusader Europe” and said that Erdoğan had miscalculated by directly entering the war in Syria. Muhajir called on the Islamic State’s jihadists to strike Turkish interests around the world.

“Accordingly, we make a call to every truthful muwahhid to target the supports of the apostate, secularist, Turkish state everywhere, including the security, military, economic, and media apparatuses…even every embassy and consulate representing them in all lands of the earth,” Muhajir said. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: New Islamic State spokesman seeks to rally Sunnis against Iran, West.]

Baghdadi’s propagandists also released a gruesome video purportedly showing two Turkish soldiers being burned alive in December.

Nightclubs and similar venues are an easy target for the Islamic State’s terrorists. In Nov. 2015, the jihadists slaughtered 89 people at the Bataclan theatre in Paris. The attack on Bataclan was part of a coordinated assault throughout France’s capital. In June 2016, a jihadist who repeatedly swore his allegiance to Baghdadi shot and killed 49 people at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Initial reports indicate that at least one gunman assaulted Reina. Some local accounts claim that he was dressed like Santa Claus, or in similar holiday garb. However, that detail and many others remain to be confirmed. Turkish authorities have arrested several people suspected of being tied to the Islamic State’s network inside Turkey, but the terrorist responsible for the killings has not yet been identified or detained.

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

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God vs. the Sociologists: the Role of Religion in Terrorism

word-cloud-615-407

The civil war that is happening within Islam across the globe has much more to do with fault-lines within the religion than it does with economic or sociological factors.

Those fault lines originated with the death of Mohammed, and they come down to two key questions: Who is the successor to Mohammed, and what are the sources of authority in Islam?

Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, by Katharine Cornell Gorka, September 23, 2016:

Two of the predominant ways of looking at the problem of ISIS are either as a sociological problem or as a theological problem.  The Obama administration takes the first view; its critics take the second.

From the beginning of his presidency, President Obama has deflected blame for terrorism away from the religion of Islam. For him and his administration, the fault lies not with the religion but in ‘upstream factors’: economic, political, and sociological causes.

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Thursday, June 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'.  Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Thursday, June 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a ‘new beginning between the United States and Muslims’, declaring that ‘this cycle of suspicion and discord must end’.
Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

In his seminal Cairo speech, delivered at Al-Azhar University in Egypt on June 4, 2009, President Obama identified three explanations for Muslim discontent and violence:

  • colonialism, by which the West denied rights and opportunities to Muslims;
  • the Cold War, which led the West to treat Muslims as proxies and to disregard their aspirations; and
  • modernization and globalization, which bred Western hostility toward Islam.

According to this view, Muslim extremism is driven by legitimate grievances and has nothing to do with factors that might lie within the religion itself. The policies that naturally follow from such a view gloss over the role of religion and focus instead on addressing those alleged grievances.

Thus has the administration proceeded. In numerous speeches President Obama has expressed his support for Islam and its importance to the United States. He provided verbal, financial and technical support for anti-government forces during the Arab Spring (which included support for both secular forces as well as Islamist parties). And he withdrew nearly all combat troops from Iraq in 2011 and from Afghanistan in 2014.

If U.S. “meddling” in the region as well as perceived Western hostility toward Islam were in fact the root causes of Islamist terrorism, then these new policies could reasonably have been expected to bring about the demise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, al Nusra Front, Boko Haram and other Islamist groups.

But they did not. Indeed, we have seen the very opposite.

When President Obama came into office, Osama bin Laden was in hiding and Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had all but disappeared. Since that time,

  • AQI evolved into ISIS, declared the Caliphate, and took over a territory the size of Great Britain with fully functioning affiliates in 18 countries;
  • Syria erupted into a civil war that has now raged for more than 5 years, claiming the lives of more than 400,000 and setting off the largest refugee crisis the world has seen;
  • Osama bin Laden is dead, but Al Qaeda is resurgent under the leadership of Ayman al Zawahiri;
  • Libya is roiled by civil war and chaos;
  • Boko Haram continues its war against Christians and moderate Muslims in Nigeria;
  • the Taliban rules in much of Afghanistan; and
  • the jihadists have brought their violence to the West with deadly attacks throughout Europe and the United States.

There could be no clearer evidence that the current strategy against Islamist violence is failing.

REASSESSING THE THREAT

Where does the solution lie? First, it requires a revised assessment of the threat. The sociological assessment of the threat is wrong. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that grievances are not the key cause of extremism. Jihadists, as a rule, are not undereducated or underprivileged.

While upstream factors might be exacerbating, ideology is a far more important motivator. The problem is that the ideology of jihad is inextricably rooted in religion and this notion makes most Americans profoundly uncomfortable.

From 4th grade civics classes onwards, Americans are schooled in the notion that others should not be judged for their religion. It is far easier and more comfortable to blame poverty or tyrants or even ourselves for Islamist terrorism. But we must get over this squeamishness when it comes to talking about religion, because religion is central to the conflicts in the Middle East.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (Aljazeera)

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (Aljazeera)

When Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared the establishment of the Caliphate on June 29, 2014, his concern was not poverty or modern nation states or democracy; it was Islam. A word-cloud analysis of his speech makes that incontestably clear:

word-cloud-web

All the evidence that has since emerged from the Islamic States only serves to reinforce that fact. Most recently, a defector from ISIS, Mohammed Imal Khweis, said, “Our daily life was prayer, eating and learning about the religion for 8 hours.”

FAULT LINES WITHIN ISLAM

The civil war that is happening within Islam across the globe has much more to do with fault-lines within the religion than it does with economic or sociological factors.

Those fault lines originated with the death of Mohammed, and they come down to two key questions: Who is the successor to Mohammed, and what are the sources of authority in Islam?

After Mohammed completed his last pilgrimage and shortly before he died, in 632 A.D., he is said to have preached for three hours in the blistering sun to more than 100,000 of his followers at Ghadir Khumm. There, he took the hand of Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, and said, “For whomever I am his Leader, Ali is his leader.”

Was Mohammad appointing Ali his successor, as the Shi’a believe? Or was he merely saying that Ali was deserving of esteem and affection, as the Sunni believe?

This lack of clarity over Mohammed’s successor led to the assassination of three of the first four caliphs and the eventual division of the Muslim community into Shi’a and Sunni.

Today, this debate over the rightful successor to Mohammed continues to fuel enmity between Sunni and Shi’a: it drives Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s support for Sunni Islamists in Syria against Iran’s support for the Shia in Syria and Iraq.

The second fault line within Islam today arises over the question of who has authority in Islam, particularly with regard to the law. During Muhammed’s lifetime, the putative revelations he received helped him to elaborate the faith. Some of the pre-Islamic tribal laws and practices remained in place, but in many instances Muhammad laid down new laws and new ways of conducting oneself.

Indeed a part of what makes this body of rules—Sharia, as it has come to be known—so distinctive from the Western concept of law is that it is not merely a set of laws but rather an all-encompassing way of life. Sharia includes laws on ownership, inheritance, divorce, and slavery, but it also includes guidelines on how to pray, how to wash, how to relate to others, even how to enter a room.

This was distinct from the Christian tradition. Jesus Christ had introduced a new set of rules for the spiritual life, to be practiced by his followers while living under Roman laws (the “Render unto Caesar” passage). Mohammad presented a comprehensive system which provided both spiritual guidelines as well as laws. Christians saw themselves as a subset that had to live within a broader society. Islam saw itself as the whole society.

Thus those Muslims who argue for theocracy have all the theological ammunition they need to justify it.

As long as Mohammad was alive, he was the arbiter of the law because he was both the leader of the community and the conduit to Allah. He delivered the word of Allah on what was right and wrong, allowed and forbidden. The Muslim community thus lost its direct access to divine revelation when Mohammed died.

Only a handful of crimes had been explicitly named in the Qu’ran: theft, fornication, false accusation, and the waging of war against Islam or “spreading disorder in the land.”

What happens when situations are encountered that had not been specifically addressed by Mohammad?

POST-MOHAMMAD DIVISION

Since the Qu’ran was the word of Allah, as conveyed by Mohammad, was the Qu’ran the only legitimate source of law? Or since Muhammad was the chosen messenger of Allah, were his words and deeds outside of the Qu’ran also an authoritative source?

And what about the Rightly Guided Caliphs, those companions of Muhammad who had lived and worked alongside the Prophet and after his death had been so favored by Allah with victory in expanding the empire of Islam? Were not their elaborations of the law in those first decades after the death of Muhammad also an authoritative source? Similarly, were not the scholars and inhabitants of Medina a source of authority by virtue of having preserved the practices of Mohammad?

And finally, what about the role of human reason? Could man use reason to draw analogies between circumstances encountered by Muhammad and the present day?

These are the contours of the debate that ensued in the centuries following the death of Mohammad.

Four principal schools of law emerged, all of which agreed on the most important sacred sources, albeit with differences of emphasis among them:

  • the Qu’ran,
  • the words and actions of Muhammad (as preserved in the hadith and the sunna),
  • the example of the Companions of the Prophet, and
  • tradition.

THE ROLE OF REASON

But passionate and murderous debate ensued over the role of reason.

A group of scholars who came to be known as the Mu’tazalites emerged around the 8th century. They argued that there is an objective moral order that man can know through reason, and therefore human reason must be considered a legitimate source of authority in Islam. (This is an argument very similar to theories of Natural Law that had been developed from Greek philosophy and later Christian theologians, and to which the Mu’tazilites were exposed through translations.)

For a brief time, the Mu’tazalites held sway, and those who argued that reason had no role to play were threatened, flogged, imprisoned, banished, even murdered—indeed this period is referred to as Islam’s Inquisition (Mihna). But then the tables turned and those who stood in favor of reason were themselves quashed.

One of the most contentious debates sparked by the Mu’tazalite movement concerned the nature of the Qu’ran.

Not dissimilar to debates in the early Church over the nature of Jesus Christ—is Christ human or is He divine?—for Muslims the question was whether the Qu’ran was uncreated, co-eternal with Allah, or created. According to the Mu’tazalites, logic dictated that the Qu’ran could not be co-eternal with Allah because Allah must have preceded his own speech.

Why does this seemingly obscure point matter so much today? Because if the Qu’ran was uncreated, co-eternal with Allah, then it must remain true for all time and its laws and proscriptions must be followed to the letter.

This is the foundation of the argument of groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS in establishing 7th century rules and punishments. If, on the other hand, the Qu’ran was created for a specific time and place, then it can be adapted and amended for a new time and place.

Here lies the greatest potential for Islam to adapt to the modern world, to live peacefully alongside other religions, to end Islamist violence. Unfortunately, the Mu’tazalites were thoroughly defeated by about the 10th century, and those who have tried to revive the Mu’tazalite argument have been equally plagued.

These are the very profound fault lines within Islam, of which ISIS and Al Qaeda are but one manifestation. Asserting that terrorism has nothing to do with religion, as President Obama has done, is to ignore the very real conflict within the Muslim world.

To think that the United States can have a constructive role in this process by merely taking out key leaders of terrorist groups with drone strikes is to miss the point entirely. This is not a conflict of our making, nor is it ours to solve, but without a doubt the United States has an important role to play. Understanding the religious dimension of the conflict is the starting point in ensuring that it is not an exacerbating one.

Katharine Cornell Gorka is the President of the Council on Global Security and co-editor of Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism. In her current position, Katharine focuses on the threat posed by Islamic terrorism and radical ideologies. She works closely with U.S. government agencies, law enforcement and the intelligence community. Katharine is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received a master’s degree in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics.

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Terrorists in Normandy swore allegiance to Baghdadi before attacking church

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Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, July 27, 2016:

The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has released a video purportedly featuring the two terrorists responsible for attacking a church in Normandy, France yesterday. The assailants killed an elderly priest during a morning mass in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, took several people hostage, and were then gunned down by police.

A screen shot of the jihadists shown in Amaq’s video can be seen above. One of the two, identified as “Abu Jalil al Hanafi,” bows his head as he swears bay’ah (an oath of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Abu Jalil uses the honorific “Emir ul-Mu’minin,” or “Emir of the Faithful,” for Baghdadi. This title is usually reserved for the caliph.

Abu Jalil’s pledge of fealty, which he delivers on behalf of himself and his comrade, “Abu Omar,” contains the standard formulation used by Islamic State followers around the globe. He promises to obey Baghdadi in almost all circumstances.

Amaq has now released three similar videos in the span of ten days.

On July 18, a teenager attacked a train in Würzburg, Germany, seriously injuring some of the passengers on board. Amaq posted a video of the terrorist, who was identified as “Muhammad Riyad.” While brandishing a knife, Riyad called on all Muslims to swear allegiance to Baghdadi, arguing that the caliphate has been resurrected in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. [See LWJ report, Teenager who terrorized German train appears in Islamic State video.]

Then, on July 24, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive device outside a music festival in Ansbach, Germany. In a video released on July 26, Amaq said the bomber’s name was “Mohammad Daleel.” Just like Abu Jalil and Muhammad Riyad, Daleel swore allegiance to Baghdadi in his short clip. [See LWJreport, Attacks in France and Germany claimed by Islamic State propaganda arm.]

The three releases by Amaq demonstrate that Islamic State loyalists are able to get their videos into the propaganda outfit’s hands prior to their chosen day of terror. This requires at least some level of coordination, even if only over the internet.

An Naba magazine, which is also part of the Islamic State’s media machine, released a profile of Daleel within hours of Amaq’s video. According to Naba’s biography, Daleel (also known as “Abu Yusuf al Karar”) was a veteran of the jihad in Syria. He originally joined the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the precursor to the current Islamic State, and then migrated back to Aleppo.

Daleel allegedly fought against the “Nusayri regime,” meaning forces loyal to Bashar al Assad’s government. (Nusayri is a derogatory term for Alawites.) He joined Al Nusrah Front, which was originally an arm of the ISI before it broke off and became its own branch of al Qaeda. However, Daleel was wounded and left Syria for treatment.

After the so-called “caliphate” was declared, according to Naba, Daleel attempted to make his way back to Syria to rejoin the jihad. His attempts to reach Syria failed, so Daleel decided to strike inside Germany. Naba indicates that Daleel planned his deed for months and was in contact with another, unnamed Islamic State “soldier,” who assisted Daleel.

It appears that both Daleel and at least one of the two attackers in Normandy were prevented from joining the Islamic State in Syria after the group’s “caliphate” declaration in the summer of 2014.

French authorities have identified one of the terrorists in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray as a 19 year-old named Adel Kermiche. He may be the young man known as “Abu Jalil al Hanafi” in Amaq’s video. Kermiche reportedly tried to join the Islamic State in Syria twice, but failed. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kermiche “served 10 months in prison” for his attempted travels, but was released “in March 2016 on condition he wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, over the objections of prosecutors who still viewed him as a risk.”

The Islamic State has repeatedly called on its members and supporters to carry out attacks in the West if they are prevented from migrating to the lands of the “caliphate.”

In May of this year, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani told followers that if foreign governments “have shut the door of hijrah [migration] in your faces,” then they should “open the door of jihad in theirs,” meaning in the West.

“Make your deed a source of their regret,” Adnani continued. “Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them.”

“If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State,” Adnani told his audience, “then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor.”

Adnani told jihadists that they should “not make light of throwing a stone at a crusader in his land,” nor should they “underestimate any deed, as its consequences are great for the mujahidin and its effect is noxious to the disbelievers.”

Thus far, the available evidence suggests that some of the recent attacks in Europe were carried out by men who heeded Adnani’s advice. Amaq claimed that the “operation[s]” in both Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France and Ansbach, Germany were executed “in response to calls to target nations in the coalition fighting the Islamic State.”

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

The Islamic State’s prolific ‘martyrdom’ machine

isis suicide attacksLONG WAR JOURNAL, BY | June 8, 2016:

The Islamic State claims to have executed 489 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq, Syria and Libya during the first five months of 2016. The figure comes from monthly data published by Amaq News Agency, a propaganda arm of the so-called caliphate that releases infographics summarizing the group’s suicide attacks.

Amaq’s most recent infographic (seen on the right) indicates that the jihadists executed 119 “martyrdom operations” in the month of May alone. If Amaq’s figures are accurate, then the Islamic State is launching suicide attacks at a historically high rate.

Earlier this month, for example, the State Department reported that there were 726 “suicide attacks” executed by all perpetrators around the globe in 2015. Therefore, all terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, carried out an average of 61 suicide bombings per month in 2015. The Islamic State nearly doubled that rate in May and has exceeded it by more than 20 attacks each month this year, according to Amaq’s infographics.

The data referenced by Foggy Bottom is compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which maintains an “unclassified event database compiled from information in open-source reports of terrorist attacks.”

According to START’s data, 2015 witnessed a record number of suicide bombings. But 2016 is currently on pace to eclipse that high-water mark.

While Amaq’s claims are difficult to independently verify, the statistics are reasonable given the scale of the Islamic State’s fighting. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men routinely claim credit for simultaneous suicide bombings. The organization is taking on multiple adversaries in every country where it operates, making the use of suicide bombings (one of the jihadists’ most effective tactics) an especially important tool. For instance, the State Department noted that “[o]n average, suicide attacks in 2015 were 4.6 times as lethal as non-suicide attacks.”

A recent video from Al Hayat, another one of the Islamic State’s mouthpieces, trumpeted this “caliphate vs. the world” mentality. In “The Religion of Kufr Is One,” Al Hayat made it clear that Baghdadi’s enterprise is at war with virtually everyone else. The subtitle of the video, “The Islamic State and its methodology dealing with all apostate parties and nations of disbelief,” underscored the degree to which this is the group’s deliberate strategy.

The Islamic State’s prolific use of “martyrs” probably highlights both its strength and weakness. On the one hand, there are likely more people, predominately young men, willing to die for the jihadists’ cause today than ever. (It should also be noted that adolescents and even children have been used in suicide attacks.) On the other hand, most of the organization’s suicide attackers are being dispatched in areas where the “caliphate” is being challenged, including locations that were once under its control.

The Long War Journal assesses that Islamic State is being forced to deploy many of its “martyrs” because its territorial claims are being rolled back in Iraq, Syria and even Libya.

The Long War Journal has tallied the figures provided on Amaq’s infographics from January through May of 2016. The English-language versions of these infographics can be seen below.

The following observations have been culled from Amaq’s statistics.

Most of the Islamic State’s “martyrdom operations,” 303 of the 489 claimed (62 percent), have been carried out inside Iraq. Approximately half of these (152 of 303) have been launched in Anbar province, where the jihadists are engaged in fierce battles with Iraqi government forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias for months. Salahuddin (52 suicide attacks), Nineveh (40), Baghdad (32), and Kirkuk (17) are the next most frequently targeted areas.

The Islamic State launched 175 suicide attacks in Syria (36 percent of the total) during the first five months of the year. Aleppo province (59) was hit most frequently, followed by Hasakah (33), Deir Ezzor (25), Homs (20) and Raqqa (14) provinces. Raqqa is, of course, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. Amaq’s data indicate that 12 of the 14 suicide attacks there this year were carried out in February.

The remaining 11 “martyrdom operations” took place in Libya. Interestingly, Amaq claimed only one suicide attack in Libya from January through April. But the infographic for May shows 10 such bombings. Nine of the 10 have been executed in and around Sirte, the group’s central base of operations in Libya. The Islamic State’s presence in Sirte has been under assault from multiple directions for weeks, with the jihadists losing their grip on some of the neighboring towns and key facilities. Thus, the group is likely attempting to stymie its rivals’ advances with the deployment of its suicide bombers.

Iraqi forces are the most frequent target of the Islamic State’s “martyrdom operations,” as they were hit 279 times from January through May. Bashar al Assad’s regime is the second most frequent target, with the Islamic State’s suicide bombers striking the Syrian government’s forces on 89 occasions. The remaining bombings struck “Kurdish units” (54), the “Syrian opposition” (31 times), the Peshmerga (25), Fajr Libya (10) and General Khalifa Haftar’s fighters in Libya (1).

Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) are used more often than individual bombers strapped with explosives, according to Amaq. The infographics count 301 VBIEDs used in suicide attacks (62 percent of the total) as compared to 184 bombings using explosive belts, jackets and vests. The remaining four are listed as “dual operations.”

Assuming Amaq’s data are accurate, then the Islamic State’s “martyrdom” machine is setting a record pace for suicide operations.

See more

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

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