The Nigerian jihadist movement Boko Haram has gone through a number of iterations since it emerged in the early 2000s. One major question about the group, from its early days until the present, has concerned the nature and the extent of its ties to other jihadist groups. Support from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb may have been one enabling factor in Boko Haram’s campaign of sustained guerrilla violence starting in 2010. More recently, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015, a tie that seems more rhetorical than operational, but that may contribute to flows of fighters and weapons between Nigeria, Libya, and elsewhere.

I have long treated Boko Haram as a primarily homegrown movement, but there is one international connection that stands out to me from Boko Haram’s early years, before its decisive turn to jihadism in 2010. That connection is the intellectual debt that Boko Haram’s founder, Muhammad Yusuf (1970-2009), owed to one of the world’s most influential Salafi-jihadi thinkers, the Jordan-based Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (b. 1959) There is no evidence that the two men ever met, and neither did Yusuf directly name al-Maqdisi in any writings or lectures that I have located. Yet there are two substantial pieces of evidence that al-Maqdisi’s writings were crucial to Yusuf as he articulated his own Salafi-jihadi creed in 2008-2009, the period just prior to Boko Haram’s mass uprising in July 2009.

First, Yusuf almost certainly borrowed ideas and citations from al-Maqdisi. As I describe in my recent book, Yusuf published a manifesto in 2009 entitled Hadhihi ‘Aqidatuna wa-Manhaj Da‘watina (This Is Our Creed and the Method of Our Preaching). Hadhihi ‘Aqidatuna overlaps with al-Maqdisi’s writings in several ways. For one thing, the book shares a title with one of al-Maqdisi’s works (entitled simply Hadhihi ‘Aqidatuna). Additionally, Yusuf’s manifesto adopts a similar rhetorical strategy to al-Maqdisi’s book. Both authors present the Salafi-jihadi creed as identical to mainstream Salafi thought and as completely continuous with the thought of figures such as Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), the medieval Damascene theologian.

Moreover, Yusuf writes at length about three themes that al-Maqdisi also treated, namely al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ (loyalty and disavowal), izhar al-din (manifesting religion), and the exemplary nature of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham). In Salafi-jihadi eyes, al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ involves exclusive loyalty to fellow Muslims and a stark disavowal of all other allegiances. Izhar al-din means adopting an outspoken, activist posture toward practicing and spreading Islam. Abraham, meanwhile, is for Salafi-jihadis an example of acting single-mindedly in the quest to manifest religion and disavow all non-monotheists, even one’s own family.

Finally – and here is where we see al-Maqdisi’s influence on Yusuf most clearly – Yusuf cites some of the same passages that al-Maqdisi cites from nineteenth-century Wahhabi hardliners. Two key nineteenth-century texts that both al-Maqdisi and Yusuf used were Hamad ibn Atiq’s Sabil al-Najat wa-l-Fakak (The Path of Salvation and Liberation) and the collection of Wahhabi writings called Al-Durar al-Saniyya fi al-Ajwiba al-Najdiyya (The Glittering Jewels of the Najdi Responses). Sometimes Yusuf’s citations are identical to al-Maqdisi’s, so that one suspects outright plagiarism from al-Maqdisi; in one edition, Al-Durar al-Saniyya runs to sixteen volumes, making it unlikely that Yusuf would have come to these citations entirely on his own. Yusuf must have had a copy – at the very least – of al-Maqdisi’s 1984 Millat Ibrahim wa-Da‘wat al-Anbiya’ wa-l-Mursalin (The Community/Creed of Abraham and the Call of the Prophets and the Messengers). It would have been easy to obtain a copy online, although perhaps it was given to Yusuf by an associate.

Why would Yusuf have downplayed the influence that al-Maqdisi had on his thinking? One answer may be that Yusuf was wavering about his commitment to jihadism up until the final months of his life, and that he still had some hopes of presenting himself as a mainstream Salafi scholar. Yusuf had begun his career within the mainstream Salafi fold in northern Nigeria – figures who rejected jihadism – and it was not until the mid-2000s that he fell out with his mentors and peers in the wider Salafi movement. Another possibility may be that Yusuf was keen to situate himself as the pre-eminent scholarly authority for his audiences. And so while it bolstered his intellectual authority to cite from nineteenth-century Wahhabis and from the twentieth-century Saudi Arabian religious establishment, it could have undermined his authority to be seen as the blind follower of a living Jordanian jihadist.

This brings us to the second piece of evidence that Yusuf was influenced by al-Maqdisi: even if Yusuf downplayed al-Maqdisi’s influence, Yusuf’s opponents within Nigeria’s Salafi movement linked Yusuf to al-Maqdisi in an attempt to discredit both men. Just a few months before Yusuf led Boko Haram in its mass uprising in July 2009, a major Nigerian Salafi scholar, Dr. Muhammad Sani Umar Rijiyar Lemo, came to Maiduguri, the epicenter of Boko Haram, to denounce Yusuf. Rijiyar Lemo, however, focused only indirectly on Yusuf – instead, he devoted his two-day lecture series to criticizing the global jihadist movement more broadly. In one significant passage, Rijiyar Lemo explicitly belittled al-Maqdisi’s credentials, denying al-Maqdisi the status of scholar. Rijiyar Lemo, a graduate of the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, also positioned himself, rather than Yusuf, as the authority who could interpret Saudi and global Salafi scholarship.

What do the ties between Yusuf and al-Maqdisi tell us about Boko Haram? For one thing, they show how Yusuf was attempting to construct an intellectual architecture as Boko Haram drifted into jihadism. In the early and mid-2000s, even after some Boko Haram offshoots launched a disastrous uprising in 2003-2004, Yusuf was willing to operate within mainstream society: he served on a government committee, he interacted with politicians, and he even made statements (perhaps disingenuous, but a far cry from his later postures) indicating a tacit acceptance of the pluralistic, secular environment in which he found himself. By 2009, however, he was headed toward a collision with authorities. Al-Maqdisi’s ideas helped him to flesh out the justifications for that collision.

As noted above, Yusuf and al-Maqdisi almost certainly never met, but their intellectual tie connects Yusuf to a long genealogy of jihadist thinkers. That tie also connected Boko Haram to the Islamic State – in an ideological sense – even before Boko Haram pledged allegiance. Although al-Maqdisi has essentially rejected the Islamic State’s authority, many of the core ideas that he popularized were crucial for the Islamic State’s own intellectual framework. For example, Islamic State propagandists continue to cite ideas like the example of Abraham, albeit without crediting al-Maqdisi (see pp. 20-23 here). Given that Boko Haram and the Islamic State have a shared intellectual DNA, their convergence (again, likely much more at the rhetorical level than in any operational sense) should not be surprising.

The role of ideologues

Posted: 27th October 2016 by Tore Hamming in AQ Central, Ideological trends, Jihadi media, propaganda

This is the fourth Q&A of the interview series with Ahmed Al Hamdan (@a7taker), a Jihadi-Salafi analyst and author of “Methodological Difference Between ISIS and Al Qaida“. Al Hamdan was a former friend of Turki bin Ali, and a student of Shaykh Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi under whom he studied and was given Ijazah, becoming one of his official students. Also, Shaykh Abu Qatada al Filistini wrote an introduction for his book when it was published in the Arabic language. The interview series contains contains five themes in total and will all be published on You can find the first Q&A here, the second here and the third here.

Tore Hamming:

Part of the struggle between IS and AQ happens through ideologues either part of or sympathetic to one of the two movements. AQ has consistently been supported by major ideologues like Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada al-Filastini and Hani Siba’i, while IS has relied on younger people, most famously Turki al-Bin’ali. How do you see the role of these ideologues for the broader struggle within Salafi-Jihadism?

Ahmed Al Hamdan:

In fact, this question has been phrased wrongly.

We must realize that the problems of ISIS are no longer confined to a conflict with Al Qaeda in just the Arab region only making the Arabs to be the only influential speakers for Jihad. Rather ISIS has come to every language and nationalities! And they have come into conflict with groups that are not Arabs. These nationalities and groups have speakers that speak in their languages and influence them more than the Arab speakers.  I will give you an example:

Amongst the English speakers, Shaykh Anwar al Awlaki is considered to be one of the main leaders and ideologues of Jihad, while amongst the Arabic speakers he is considered to be a Jihadi commander only. Why? It is because all the Shariah treatises of Shaykh Anwar have been released in the English language. They were not released in the Arabic language with the exception of 4 statements, which were all exhortative statements.

So if we compare for example the influence of Shaykh Anwar al Awlaki amongst the English speakers with that of the influence of the Shaykhs such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al Filastini, there is no doubt that Shaykh Anwar al Awlaki would be much more influential. And this can also be seen with the American Shaykh Ahmad Jibril. I myself and some of those occupied with the Arab Jihadi issues had never heard of him at all until recently when communicating with the English Jihadi media. And we came to know that this person has a lot of influence and is widely known, despite us having not heard about him at all before.

And this is a general principle: The more material exists for a person in a specific language, the more will be his influence upon the speakers of that language. How many materials of the ideologues of Jihadi groups in Arabic have been translated into Turkistani language for example? Maybe 2 or 3. So is this sufficient to influence the Turkistanis in the battle against ISIS? The answer is no. However when a person like Mufti Abu Dhar Azzam break away and release a statement criticizing ISIS, this will have a greater effect than translating some articles of al Maqdisi and al Filistini about ISIS into the Turkestan language, even if he is less knowledgeable than them. Why is this so?  Because Abu Dhar is known amongst the Turkistanis and he speaks in their language and he has held lectures and lessons among them. And so, being previously known as well as a common language is what becomes effective for having influence in battles, and not just Shariah knowledge.

Who is the foremost ideologue for Jihad and the Jihadi groups in Europe? We don’t know. Perhaps a Shaykh who is young in age and who speaks French will have a greater influence than Shaykh Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi or Abu Qatada al Filistini upon the Jihadis who speak in French.

So the person who speaks directly to you and who always keeps you at the center of the events will be more effective than a person with Islamic knowledge who does not speak directly to you and who has to use interpreters who may be late in translating his statements or may not translate all of his statements.

However because of the worldwide battle against ISIS, there have emerged communication bridges between groups who are fighting against ISIS who speak different languages. For example, we see that Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri’s words get translated into Russian by the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus (1) or get translated into Turkistani by the Turkistan Islamic Party, (2) and we have seen Shaykh Ayman trying to address these organisations by mentioning their merits. And we have seen how the ideologues and the leaders of the Arab groups have released statements in solidarity with the Islamic Emirate of Caucasus against the attempts of ISIS to split its ranks, (3) and we have seen how when the Turkistan Islamic Party released a speech from its top most leader refuting ISIS, they put the Arab scholars of Jihad in the background. (4)

So I think we are facing a situation known as “the globalization of the Jihadi organisations” in contrast to “the globalization of ISIS.”

And this has resulted in intermingling and openness towards each other due to the existence of a common enemy. Previously the Russians were fighting the Caucasians and the Chinese were fighting the Turkistanis and the Americans were fighting Al Qaeda, most of whom have been Arabs. However these organisations have now found themselves against a united common enemy, which is ISIS, which is trying to dismantle them. And this has led to them eventually coordinating with each other to fight this new enemy which is threatening the fortresses from within, as opposed to the enemy which is not common to them all and threatens the fortresses from the outside.

And this is another principle: Whenever there is a single enemy, there is a larger chance of unity and cooperation.

So due to this, there began to circulate writings which refute ISIS and translated works have begun to spread in different languages about a single issue only, that is refuting the misconceptions caused by ISIS. And I think this is something that has not happened before.

This is one matter. As for the other matter, it is why have younger ideologues inclined towards ISIS, while their teachers have inclined towards Al Qaeda?

I have answered this question in my previous reply, and I have said that the greater a person’s age and the more his experience in life, the greater will be his caution in dealing with any newly occurring matter, as opposed to the one who has no experience and whom you mostly see acting without forethought and who is more emotional rather than being logical.

Secondly, these students took the lead at a time when those Shaykhs were imprisoned- I mean the two Shaykhs Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al Filistini. And I think they said to themselves that “we must fill the vacuum left by our Shaykhs”, and they put themselves on the same level of their Shaykhs, and they began to speak on fresh matters which are very complicated, in a manner which is different from that of their Shaykhs who used to be calm and careful. And here let me write a historical testimony:

Turki Bin’ali had gone to Syria twice. The first time, he claimed, he wanted to send relief aid, and the second time was the one in which he did not return. And before he went for his first time, he was told not to listen to only one side, specifically in the matter of the dispute between Jabhat un-Nusrah and ISIS. But when he returned from Syria, we sat down together, and there was a change in his tone of speech about Jabahat al Nusra and it had become very harsh. (5) And when he was asked and told “Have you tried to hear from Jabhat un-Nusra when you were in Syria to understand their point of view?” he said “No, rather the Islamic State and its representatives are trustworthy and they do not lie!”… And so there is no need to hear both sides…!

This is not something which someone else has told me, rather I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears. So all his books and speeches and articles with which he supported ISIS were built upon this foundation, which is hearing only from one side which as per his claim, does not lie. Then it became clear to us with the passage of time that these representatives would lie even in their official publications. So look at what happens when a student takes the place of a teacher while he is not qualified!!

On the other hand, Shaykh Abu Qatada was asked after 20 years, did he benefit from the events in Algeria when he was young. And he said “Yes, I have benefitted greatly, one of the most important of which was to not be deceived by the way how a questioner formulates his question, because sometimes he will lie and deceive and formulate questions which are not in accordance with reality in order to get the Fatwa he wants to support his stance against his opponents. So whenever I feel that a person is doing this, I would ignore his questions so that he does not take my Fatwas to misuse them in an improper manner”. (6)

But the person with little experience will fall into this mistake and he will sympathise with the questioner who has formulated his question showing him being oppressed, and he will issue a Fatwa according to what he likes and desires.

What makes a person forget himself or forget his real position is those around him, especially when they praise and exaggerate in praising the student of knowledge, and when he is addressed as ‘Shaykh’ and ‘scholar’ and with other such names. And when many people repeat these words it causes him to actually think that he has become a Shaykh and a scholar and that he is entitled to speak on the most complex matters. Therefore he should not be misled by such words of praise, and they must not cause him to forget his actual position. And if he knew what his actual position is, he will not be affected by such praises and speak on critical issues while not being qualified for it, because he knows his true worth, and he will not be carried away by these people who praise him as he knows that they are exaggerating or maybe they are exaggerating for other purposes, such as to cause you to fall into this trap, and hence you would be careful. But the one with little experience is often naïve and not cautious or aware.

In the end, how is it possible for the gap between the generations to have an effect in supporting different organisations? There is no doubt that the influence of the teachers is much greater, and the level of their fame and their positions are greater than these students who emerged only through the internet. Shaykh al Maqdisi is a person who is well-known to the most prominent leaders and to all the chiefs of the Jihadi movement, and likewise Shaykh Abu Qatada. They are considered by many as sources of reference on religious matters for Al Qaeda, (7) as opposed to these students who are not famous, because many of the students used to write under pseudonyms and some of them did not reveal who they are even to this day. So some are hesitant in promoting or mentioning people who are unknown, and many of them have stopped writing after joining ISIS.

And this is because of two issues. First, they are busy in teaching and education because ISIS have seized large areas in Iraq and Syria and it needs to fill this vacuum by teachers of Sharia, who hold seminars, speeches and lessons. And the one who becomes busy with that will find it difficult to write replies and research on the internet. The second issue is that which Shaykh Al Maqdisi himself informed me, from his contact with people in ISIS which was that the minister of information who was recently killed had prevented these people from writing under their real names, fearing that they would achieve high status and then split later, which could be used as propaganda to dissuade people from joining ISIS. Apart from that there is no doubt that the teachers are the ones with more influence and credibility than the students and they are ahead of them for the following reasons:

  1. Because their knowledge on religion and awareness on Islamic and religious matters is more than the students.
  2. Because they are well known and are people who had their stances and sacrifices and firmness that are known for over three decades, unlike many of the students who write under pseudonyms and who only jumped towards the forefront in few years and who are actually unknown, except to a small group of people, and their stances, sacrifices and firmness are unknown. And because of previous security issues there was a fear of promoting people who are unknown. (8) Thus many of these people have been ignored. As for those from the students who are known, they are not widely known amongst the Mujahideen and their sacrifices are nothing in front of those of their teachers who suffered trials and tribulations.
  3. Another issue is that the style of the Shaykhs when they respond would remain within the confines of scientific method, as opposed to the response of their students to their teachers. They would respond to their teachers by transgressing the boundaries of scientific method and go in a method which contains insults, rudeness and by using words of filth, derision and mockery, which would make them in a weaker position in the sight of the neutral observer.

ISIS knows that the teachers have a greater influence than their students. Because of that, even if some of the students join them, they would still not be content with that, rather they would be determined to discredit the Shaykhs by tarnishing their image. For example, the publication which was released under the title “Smashing the idol of Al Maqdisi” after Shaykh al Maqdisi became a mediator between them and the Jordanian government in the matter of the Jordanian pilot, Muadh al Kasasbah, they deliberately tried to confuse between “mediation” and “representation”, and they portrayed him as a representative of the government which he makes Takfeer upon. And hence because he has become their ‘representative’ then he has deviated from his path in the matter of disassociating from these governments. This is despite the fact that in the same recording, there are words which confirm that he is not a representative, such as him describing the Jordanian pilot as an apostate..!!

Another matter is that they have gone beyond the stage of confusing and gone into the stage of lying. They stated in one of their magazines, that Shaykh Abu Qatada has alliance to the Tawaghit! (9) This is despite the fact that just one week before the release of the magazine, Shaykh Abu Qatada wrote in a tweet “The Muslims have not stopped falling into the same mistakes which they made before, the crime of allying with the Tawaghit”…!! (10)

But why does ISIS strive so hard to do this? It is because they know that the students are not enough and that it is the teachers who have a greater influence.

ISIS is trying to neutralize the influence of these Shaykhs, and when they will no longer have influence, then their students will at once take a superior position. Shaykh Abu Ahmad al Jazaairi, who is a Shariah leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib, has spoken the truth when he said: “Bringing down the symbolic personalities means necessarily the rising of the inferior ones. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said “When there doesn’t remain any scholar then the people will take the ignorant ones as their leaders and they will be asked, and they will give Fatwas without knowledge, thus becoming misguided and misguiding the others”. (11)



(1) It is the speech entitled “The scholar in action” which is part of the series “Carry the weapon of the martyr”. It has been translated by the media committee of the State of Dagestan VD.

(2) It is the speech “Turkistan- Patience and then victory” from the series (The Islamic Spring). It has been translated by “Sawt ul Islam” which is the media wing of the Turkistan Islamic Party.

(3) The joint statement “A statement about the recent events in the Causasus” issued on 28 January 2015, which had the participation of a group of Shaykhs the most notable being Shaykh Ibrahim Rubaish, Shaykh Harith al Nadhari, Shaykh Khalid Batarfi, Dr. Sami al Uraidi , Abu Maria al Qahtani and Dr. Abdullah al Muhaysini.

(4) A special interview by Sawt ul-Islam with the leader of the Turkistan Party, Shaykh Abdul Haq, in Feburary 2016

(5) As a fact, the tone of Turki Bin’ali regarding al Nusra was different in the past. I had written a response to one of the opponents, but before publishing it, I sent it to Turki Bin’ali in his Facebook account,  on 20 October 2013. So he replied to me privately and said “May Allah bless you. These are beautiful points, but do not cause differences between JN and ISIS, for we are with JN against the Tawaghit and their lackeys, but we condemn their mistake in leaving ISIS”. But when he returned back from Syria, his stance became different and he no longer even agreed to spread the videos showing the operations carried out by Al Nusrah against the Tawaghit and their stooges. And he would compel you to take your stance and choose to support ISIS and be hostile to everyone who oppose them, the first and foremost being Jabhat al Nusra.

(6) Shaykh Abu Qatada said in his third audio meeting in Al Fajr room on Paltalk on 22 April 2015: “We benefited a lot from the experience in Algeria, and the greatest of them was in the problem of lying and using different technical words. For example, if a Sunni man from one of the Jihadi groups in one of the countries send you a message saying “Oh Shaykh, an innovator has appeared amongst us and we have found with him documents indicating that he will contact the regime to reconcile with them, and we have found with him documents showing that he is planning a coup to overthrow the leadership in order to reconcile with the regime and deviate the Jihad into such and such path etc.”, and you think that he is a Sunni. So what answer will you give him if you are a student of knowledge? The answer would be: He is causing corruption in the land, and the least you can do is stop him, and if you cannot end his innovation without killing him, then kill him. This is what the scholars say. But we would discover later on that the innovation was not like how the questioner had mentioned but it was something else. So is the mistake in your Fatwa, or is the mistake and the lie from the questioner? And because of that, the questions asked by some brothers would remain with me pending for months and I would not reply to them. They are trustworthy brothers but they narrate the incidents as they like and as they see.

(7) Shaykh Ayman Al Zawahiri in his book “The Exoneration” has considered Shaykh Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi as a reference point for Al Qaeda (p.44) as well as Shaykh Abu Qatada (p.47). And Turki bin Ali wrote a book entitled “Al Qawl An-Narjisi Bi Adaalat Sheikhina Al Maqdisi” (a book containing collections of statements from different scholars who spoke about the virtue of Sheikh Maqdisi and praised him) and another book “Al Qilaada Fee Tazkiyath Sheikhina Abu Qatada” and in these two books Bin’ali gathered a collection of testimonies of Jihadi leaders from all the fronts of Jihad regarding these two Shaykhs. The students of these Shaykhs did not gain even a small fraction of the trust that the leaders of Mujahideen have in these Shaykhs.

(8) Leadership status in the Jihadi organisations should only be given to a person who has undergone hardships and trials and has remained firm. Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin says while putting down the condition to qualify for leadership that “It is necessary that the top level leadership be from those who have been tested and examined thoroughly.” [First set of Abbottabad Documents, Index number- SOCOM-2012-0000016] And one of the types of this test is to go to battles and fight, because the spy often sells his principles in exchange for money in order to live, but in the battles there is a very big possibility for him to get killed and so his true nature will be seen. Shaykh Usama bin Ladin says: “For example, here we feel reassured when people go to the front lines and get tested there” [First set of Abbottabad Documents, Index number: SOCOM-2012-0000003]. And from previous experience, the Jihadi groups learnt about the problem of the leadership being taken over by people who are unknown or who did not have any previous experience in the field of trials. Muhammad Suroor Zayn al Abideen (the one to whom the Suroori movement has been ascribed to, which is a Salafi school of thought) who had associated with some people who were involved in the Syrian Jihadi during the Eighties, had mentioned the incident of the infiltration into the leadership by a person named as Abu Abdullah al Jasari who used to read the Quran a lot and offer prayers at night and wake the youth for prayer, and just because of these actions he was made part of the leadership even though he was unknown and no one from the Islamic groups knew him. Then he took part in the arrest of Adnan Al Uqla and the top leadership and in aborting the armed struggle. (Refer to his book: How to protect the Islamic ranks from the hypocrites, p.77) Shaykh Abu Mus’ab al Suri has confirmed this information in his book “The Jihadi Islamic revolution in Syria – Experiences and Lessons” (p.150)

(9) The “Rumiyah” magazine, first issue, page 29-30, September 2016

(10) His personal twitter account is “@sheikhabuqatadh” on 25 August 2016.  Link here

(11) His personal twitter account is “@ahmed_karim25” on 15 May 2016.  Link here


Tore Hamming:

In terms of ideologues, the struggle between al-Qaida and the Islamic State could be framed as a struggle between teachers and their students. Have the teachers been rendered irrelevant by the fierce rhetoric or do they continue to influence Jihadi followers in great numbers? Or are new elements, like language, implying that new ideologues are shining in the increasing globalised Jihadi environment?

It is actually all about the language. Or almost. That could easily be the initial conclusion of Al Hamdan in his assessment of the influence of contemporary Jihadi-Salafi ideologues. The prominence of an ideologue is not necessarily dependent on his knowledge, or cultural capital, but to a great extent on his way of connecting with listeners. It is interesting to hear from a keen Jihadi follower like Al Hamdan that Ahmad Jibril was unknown to him until recently although he is a household name in many Jihadi circles in the West.

The above statement about the importance of language is only true to some extent. Despite the fact that most of their statement are in Arabic, the Jordanian ‘teachers’ of Abu Qatada and al-Maqdisi, who have been extensively studied in several articles on Jihadica, continue to be dominant voices among individuals sympathetic to the Jihadi project all over the world.

In a discussion I had with the London-based Abu Mahmoud al-Filistini about the importance of ideologues in the fitna between al-Qaida and the Islamic State, he told me that ideologues are by far the most actors in influencing people. “Even more than any military commander”, Abu Mahmoud said. This is also why it is so interesting to follow how these ideologues intervene in the fitna, who they side with and how they manage to influence ‘the masses’. As a result, it is not surprising that Jihadi groups and media organisations put a lot of effort into translating speeches, statements, videos etc. Almost every time I check my Telegram, there is an update on a new language added to the repertoire of a channel.

The competitive nature of the al-Qaida – Islamic State relationship is affecting the logic of the entire Jihadi field. Lately, this has been very evident in the case of Jund al-Aqsa. This competitive environment and the flexible position of many groups is not only considered a risk from an al-Qaida or an Islamic State perspective, but also as a potential. This is a central issue for Jihadi ideologues and the media supporting them as they seek to warn people against the opposing group, while promoting their own camp. In the case of Maqdisi, Abu Qatada, and Hani Siba’i they all have +50,000 followers on Twitter and their statements are discussed intensively and listened to. This mobilising power continues to be important for al-Qaida and is something the Islamic State is envying.

Initially, the students proved capable substitutes of the teachers, but as time is passing it is my impression that the latter is slowly regaining their importance in the eyes of Jihadis around the world.

Apocalypse Delayed

Posted: 16th October 2016 by Will McCants in Uncategorized

Today, Turkish-backed rebels took another small town in their relentless march to secure northern Syria from ISIS and the Kurds. The news of Dabiq’s fall would be unremarkable—the final battle lasted hours and the casualties were low—but for the fact that ISIS spent the last two years proclaiming the town to be the site of an End-of-Days showdown with the infidels. This isn’t quite what the group had in mind.

ISIS’ spirit animal, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, first signaled the importance of Dabiq a decade ago when he cited an ancient Islamic prophecy about a meadow outside the town. There, Muslims would fight a “great battle” against the infidels (a separate prophecy says they would number eighty nations, each ten thousand strong). Although two-thirds of the Muslims would flee or die, the remainder would go on to conquer the eastern Roman capital of Constantinople. Zarqawi proclaimed that the fire he had ignited in Iraq would blaze a trail to the apocalyptic showdown in Dabiq.

As I document in my book, the Islamic State did not emphasize the Dabiq prophecy until 2014 when it began to gobble up territory in northern Syria. In April, the ISIS spokesman listed the town among others that were promised to fall to the Muslims’ End-Times armies. In July, ISIS released its first English-language magazine, which it named Dabiq after the town. A few weeks later, the group captured the town itself.

ISIS propaganda immediately began daring its enemies to take the town. In October 2014, it released a video of European jihadists quoting the prophecy from a hilltop overlooking the town. “We are waiting for you in Dabiq,” challenged Abu Abdullah from Britain. “Try, try to come and we will kill every single soldier.”

After the United State and its allies began bombing ISIS in August, its followers on Twitter were sure the prophesied battle was upon them. “Thirty states remain to complete the number of eighty [nations] that will gather in Dabiq and begin the battle,” tweeted one. In November, ISIS’ executioner, Mohammed Emwazi, beheaded Peter Kassig in Dabiq, saying, “Here we are, burying the first American Crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.”

But by the spring of 2015, the group’s confidence began to soften under the coalition’s relentless aerial assault. Issue 8 of Dabiq magazine floated the idea that the fulfillment of the prophecy would be delayed if the coalition didn’t invade and fight the group in Dabiq. Instead, another prophecy about the Romans making and breaking a truce with the Muslims might be operative.

Still, as late as May 2015, ISIS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi assured his followers that the final battles of the apocalypse were upon them. They could not help but be victorious because prophesy had so decreed.

When the Turkish-held noose tightened around Dabiq over the past few weeks, ISIS’ followers began to frantically explain why the approaching showdown in Dabiq would not be THE showdown. Well, the expected Mahdi, a messiah figure, had not yet appeared to lead the battle. Or the required eighty nation coalition had not rolled into town. In the past few days, ISIS’ own newsletter tried to downplay the significance of the town’s coming fall. The “great battle” will come to pass because God has promised it would; but this isn’t that battle because all the other preceding prophecies haven’t come to pass. Never mind that ISIS neglected to mention those other prophecies in its earlier hyping of Dabiq. Days later, the town fell with little resistance.

It’s easy to conclude that ISIS’ leaders cited the prophesy cynically. They played it up when it was to their advantaged and downplayed it when it was not. That may be the case, as I wrote in my book. But another theory I offered is that ISIS, like other apocalyptic groups, changes its understanding of prophecy’s fulfillment based on circumstances. We won’t know for sure which interpretation is right until we hear high-level defectors or discover internal documents bearing on the matter.

Regardless, the current spin offered by ISIS and its followers is further evidence that things aren’t going so well for the group. Gone is the proud boasting that accompanied the early citations of the prophecy in 2014. Now its fulfillment is a distant hope to sustain the weary during constant setbacks, much the same tone Zarqawi used when he first cited it. With the fall of the prophesied caliphate on the horizon, expect more of the same spin soon.

The generational divide

Posted: 9th October 2016 by Tore Hamming in AQ Central, foreign fighters, Jihadi media, Recruitment, Zawahiri

This is the third Q&A of the interview series with Ahmed Al Hamdan (@a7taker), a Jihadi-Salafi analyst and author of “Methodological Difference Between ISIS and Al Qaida“. Al Hamdan was a former friend of Turki bin Ali, and a student of Shaykh Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi under whom he studied and was given Ijazah, becoming one of his official students. Also, Shaykh Abu Qatada al Filistini wrote an introduction for his book when it was published in the Arabic language. The interview series contains contains five themes in total and will all be published on You can find the first Q&A here and the second here.

Tore Hamming:

One of the differences between IS and AQ is the generational divide; the veteran Jihadists in the camp of AQ and the younger generation being attracted by IS. Do you think this is still the case and, as IS is loosing momentum, what do you think will happen to the younger generation of Sunni Jihadists – will they abandon Jihad, seek refuge in AQ or try and establish a new group?

Ahmed Al Hamdan:

The answer to this question will be complex and overlapping. Yes, the majority of the youth are inclined towards the ISIS, and that is because the majority of the young people have a strong impulse and are drawn towards violence, and towards rushing for maximum revenge and killing and torture without carefully considering the benefits and harms which will come as a result of their actions. And these actions of theirs in many cases are not in accordance with the Shariah, rather they stem from that which satisfies them. Hence Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri warned Shaykh al Zarqawi about that and he said in his letter to him that O” ne of the most dangerous matters for the leaders is the enthusiasm of their supporters, especially the youth who are excited and burning to support the religion of Allah. So it is important that this enthusiasm is moulded with wisdom” .(1)

And Shaykh Usamah bin Ladin illustrated this point in a letter to Shaykh Abu Baseer al Wuhayshi saying “The enthusiasm of the youth is a necessary element to win the battles. However it should never be what determines the course of the war by making the leadership to run behind the enthusiasm of the youth. It is as the poet Al Mutanabi has said: “Thoughtfulness comes before the courage of the brave -This (thoughtfulness) comes first and that second”. (2)

So according to Al Qaeda, the matters are not measured by enthusiasm but rather by looking at what they result into.

It is not only myself who has noticed this matter that the youth mostly incline towards the one who speaks the harshest and the hardest. In fact even Shaykh al Maqdisi has said that “Many of the youth are lacking in education and upbringing due to them not sitting sufficiently in the gatherings of the scholars and due to their weakness in the knowledge of the manners of the Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and his noble companions and our righteous predecessors. Therefore there has spread among them sicknesses and diseases and bad manners, and they incline towards extremism which is mostly caused by ignorance and due to their assumption that the best path is the harshest path.” (3)

Previously the enthusiastic youth had no choice other than Al Qaeda. And their policy which we have just stated previously, did not allow them to unleash themselves as they wish, and so they were forced to go along with that policy and suppress this excessive desire. However now there is another outlet for the youth to do whatever sadistic things they want and to unleash themselves without thinking about any outcomes or consequences or without looking into the benefits or harm resulting from these actions. And hence many of the enthusiastic youth found their long desired objectives getting fulfilled in this group ISIS.

Secondly, many of the youth are new to the Jihadi experience and this is different from that of the elders who have lived through the previous Jihadi experiences and have seen the reasons for its failure and have seen that those same reasons are being repeated by the Islamic State. For example, antagonizing everyone and opening battle fronts with everyone and preferring to fight the Islamic groups more than fighting the enemies that are agreed upon by all, and extremism and breaking away from the Ummah, and other such things which have made them stay away from supporting this state so that it does not lead to them falling into those same mistakes again. The Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, has said “The believer is not stung from the same hole twice”(4), and this is contrary to this new generation who did not know anything about Jihad except from an audio speech or a video clip, and who did not live through the real experience in the field from which one can learn how to distinguish between the right and the wrong.

Another matter which causes ISIS to attract more youth than Al Qaeda, is the hugeness of their media campaign which is directed specifically towards the youth and their continuous communication with these youth, and we mean here the non-Arabic speakers. For example ISIS is keen to translate its publications and spread the statements made by the people of a specific country (such as England) and for directing their message to the youth in their country urging them to come (to them). Also the main official magazine of this group is published in English and they have opened a channel, Al Amaq News, which is also in the English language.

This group ISIS is very eager to make sure it attracts the youth. Perhaps they intensified their propaganda in English because it is a universal language understood by many nationalities. So they hit many birds with one stone. In contrast, there is a very huge shortage from the side of Al Qaeda in focusing on the call towards the youth to join them, and it has not translated its recent releases, and there would be no continuous and direct contact with them in the English language. And its magazines which are released in the English language are not regular, meaning two months may pass without an issue getting released. And this is what causes many of the youth to interact with those who are addressing them and who try to make events revolve around these youth.

On top of that which we have previously stated, the delay by Al Qaeda in responding (to the allegations of ISIS against it), by them hoping that the situation could be rectified through reconciliation, has led many of the youth into joining the ranks of the Islamic State. Then these people gradually went further to the point of being a partisan to their group at an early stage. Then they began to call their friends or those who have just been released from prisons to support or join the Islamic State. I myself, for example, when I was released from prison and I saw that most of my friends are supporting the ISIS, then I would mostly end up supporting them, and I would give priority to their statements for judging the events and matters in which there were disagreements in Shaam (Syria).

And another thing is that if ISIS loses momentum, then the existence of its old propaganda materials can still be effective for recruitment in the long term. For example, Shaykh Anwar al Awlaki was killed in the year 2012 and his words still recruit and inspire the people despite the Shaykh having departed 4 years ago. So the only solution for Al Qaeda is to use the existing cadres they have to match the efforts of ISIS in their media propaganda. Otherwise ISIS will be the only choice for one who wants to join the Jihad.

But there is another matter which may help Al Qaeda without them having to engage in daily media wars with ISIS. That is that a lot of Arabs and non-Arabs who joined ISIS after watching the videos released by ISIS which portrayed itself as the perfect ideal, when they entered it, they were shocked by the security controls. These security controls emerged at a later time after the Islamic state gained control over Raqqa and Sharqiyya, and after al Adnani announced that whoever wanted to split the ranks would have their heads split. So that resulted in a fear of leaving ISIS and the dissidents then participating in recording personal experiences in which they state the mistakes and the negative aspects of ISIS and then this becoming a strong obstacle in their recruitment and propaganda. So ISIS has taken preemptive steps amongst which is that it has restricted the role of many of the well-known people who pledged allegiance to it, such as Bin’ali, Dr. Sa’d al Hunaiti and Mahdi Zaydaan and others who had a heavy presence in the media, due to their fear that they may defect later on. And so the appearance of these personalities in the media almost became non-existent under ISIS. Their second step would be to bring forward the one who expresses doubt. And the existence of this doubt would lead to a preemptive attempt to find out which person may possibly defect so that they may deal with him early. And due to this doubt some actions of the members would sometimes be misinterpreted, and thus there would be abuse and exaggerations by wrongly interpreting some actions of the members in a way in which they were not intended. For example, one of the soldiers asked for a biography of Al Adnani and Baghdadi as they were the leaders of his state and he wanted to know more about them, and so he was accused of being a spy. This mania in their dealings has made many of the soldiers annoyed, especially since their loyalty comes under doubt. For this reason many have started wanting to leave because they find themselves living under a dictatorial regime. This is with regards to the youth. As for the young women, the matter which has made some of them to strive to leave is that they have been forcefully married. The young women who migrate to the land of the Khilafa without a guardian, she will not be left like this, rather she will be made to marry, and even if she is already married previously then she will be separated from her husband and made to marry again. Likewise the woman who migrates with her husband, if he gets killed, then she will be made to marry with or without her consent. And this has happened on many occasions with the women. And now I will leave the issue to the previous Amir of Jabhat al Nusrah in Albukamal to tell us some of what he has witnessed from the stories of those who have defected:

One of them sent to me an audio recording of the leader of the Muhajireen in Jabhat Fath al Sham ‘Abu Hajar At-Tunisi’ in which he said these words:

“I will narrate to you some of the stories of some of the women and men who have fled to me. Some of them are funny and some will make one cry, there are various types, and the stories are many. I will narrate one such story to you.

Two British women came to me, one of them is now in the custody of Jabhat. They had fled. They narrated to me that there was a large house there where they put the widowed women and those women who had fled from their parents after they had convinced them that their parents were Kuffar who are living in western countries and in the apostate states. So these women came and they put them in this house and they said to them “It is compulsory for you to marry. Not a single one would remain without being married, whether a widow or one who has come newly”.

And they said: “The house was very narrow. Some apartments were above others and there was difficulty in living, eating, drinking and using bathrooms because for every hundred women there were only two bathrooms”.

They said that there was an Iraqi woman with them who spoke English well, that is she was an Iraqi woman who was like Al Anbari in criminality and rudeness, and she would behave badly towards the women. She would bring men who would mostly be Iraqi leaders and she would choose the most beautiful of them and her face would be uncovered forcibly in front of them. And if he wanted to marry her she would be married to him. Marriage was mostly forced; otherwise they would have to sit in the house in difficulty until the woman would think to herself and say “I will get married… It is okay.” (5)

And these two women who fled did so about a year and a half ago when the situation was a little easier. They made an agreement with a Taxi driver and gave him money and he got them out. He moved them from place to place under the pretence that they were his wives. They arrived at a place and then I went and received them and brought them to my house. With me were my wife and her mother and sisters. It was extremely cold and they were shivering. They asked me about someone they knew who was married to a British sister whom they knew previously. And they also knew him. He used to live in Britain. I put them in my house with my wife, gave them food and drink and then took them to that brother.

They sat with the brother for some days and then they made Takfeer on him. And after they left, the brother told me “they made Takfeer on you also”. Of course, they were saying that ISIS is oppressive and criminal, and we thought that they had repented. However it became clear that they were Takfeeris and the brother said to me “they say you are a Kaafir.”..!

So I said “why did they say I am a Kaafir? What did I do?” 

And he said to me “they said that you support the Zionists”

I said “How do I support the Zionists? Do I have a weapons factory?”

He said to me “No, it is because you bought “Pepsi” and one of them said “he is an apostate, him and his wife because they made us drink Pepsi” and the other said “only he is an apostate because he is the one who brought us Pepsi”.

As for the youth whom I took them out, one of them was imprisoned by Ahrar. And when the leader in Ahrar “Muhammad Najeeb” asked him,”What is your opinion about ISIS?”, he said “apostates”. So he started laughing and asked “how are they apostates?”

I had gone to take him out by virtue of having known him in Tunisia and I knew that he was a very simple and naive person. So I brought him out. And I once asked him “Do you consider Baghdadi as a Kaafir?”

He said “yes I consider him to be a Kaafir”.

So I said “why do you consider him to be a Kaafir?”

He said “He is from the 5 heads of the Tawaghit who call the people to worship them.”

So you would feel…, glory be to Allah…, that they are strange people. You would find him making Takfeer on all the people and having lost faith in all the people. And the first ones who they make Takfeer upon are ISIS…! And they believe that the most evil people on the face of the earth, even more evil than Israel are ISIS…!

Naturally more than 90% of them believe all the factions to be apostates and Kaafirs even though they act towards them with goodness and even though the Free Syrian Army who helped them to get out were good towards them.

Once I helped one of them to get out alongwith his family and he used to cry. And after he left the areas under ISIS, he remained for a period of three months in Azaz, meaning he remained 5 months in total before leaving. And one of the brothers told me that when he reached Turkey he said “There is a lot of good in Abu Hajr and many things, but he is still an apostate because he remains with Jabhat”. Glory be to God..! Strange minds…! I say that if the door is opened for them, not one of them would remain (in ISIS). There are now a very large number of defectors with Faylaq and with FSA, and only Allah knows how many. Hundreds, possibly thousands have left them, and if the door is opened not one would remain with them.

There even is a very large number of men and women who have spoken to me and who want to get out, and as it is known, whoever wants to leave and is caught, then the judgment upon him according to them is either prison or death, as they consider it as incitement against the Islamic state.

Their prisons are full and they have a large number of prisoners, the majority of whom are Muhajireen. There was a man there called Abu Harith at Tunisi who knew me and his friends left before him, and I sent him my number. But then when he wanted to leave, they caught him. And I later received the news that they killed him. One time two youth from Tunisia left them and one of them stayed with one of the youth for five days, and he stayed those five days without praying because his commitment in religion was only recent. And they were in Idlib smoking and would have a cup of coffee in their hands and be playing billiards as if they were hanging around in the capital of Tunisia. Then they went to Turkey and I heard that one of them went to Europe and he has a girlfriend who was an ISIS supporter, who also fled from there, and he went to be with her in Sweden.

Of course those of them who are not polluted with the perverted Takfeeri mentality are very few. One of them was a businessman from Tunisia who was not too old. He was 24 or 25 years of age. And he did not become polluted much by Takfeeri mentality. But on the other hand the majority of those who leave believe that ISIS are apostates, and some of them even make Takfeer on the one who does not make Takfeer on ISIS.

They have a very strange hopelessness and they no longer believe that there is Jihad.

There are a number of them who have gone to Sudan and a number of them went to Europe. And there are those who surrendered themselves and there is a very large number of them in Turkey. Naturally they make Takfeer on all the people and they say that as all the people are Kuffar, then it is better to remain with the Kuffar in Turkey than with the Kuffar in Syria or to go to another country.”

We come to know from the testimony of the brother that many of them abandoned Jihad for various reasons, whether that was due to increasing extremism which made all the groups disbelievers in his opinion (ie. disbelievers fighting against disbelievers), ‘so why should I fight?!’ Or due to his reaction when he saw the opposite of his idealised dreams which this defector had hoped for, that this would be the desired Islamic state under which we would lead a life of ease and comfort. But what he saw disappointed him and so his convictions got shattered and he lost hope and got frustrated and wanted to abandon everything and return back to where he was originally. And this has happened before, even with one of the greatest leaders of Al Qaeda, and that is Shaykh Athiyatullah al Libbi, if Allah had not kept him firm with the brothers who were with him. He said after he took part in the Algerian experience how the extremists in Algeria contributed to the corruption of the Jihad until it deteriorated and became weak. He said “I personally went through a difficult experience in Algeria and came through surviving by my skin, and I thought that there will be no Jihad in the foreseeable future in my life, and I was almost in despair and I was afflicted by sadness, worry, gloom and despondency and similar things which are difficult to describe…!! It was only that Allah had protected me by giving me some firmness and benefited me through the company of the brothers, and by being consoled with the people of previous experience and goodness.” (6).

And both of these are harmful to the Islamic State – if they returned back to their countries and gave their testimonies about what they went through, and if they spoke about the huge difference between the media and the reality. And this is especially so if the one who returns back or the one who defects is someone who is obeyed and has followers. This will cause many to re-examine themselves and change their path.

ISIS fears that Al Qaeda will be an alternative, and so it took another preemptive step, that is they considered it a priority to speak about it and attack it and to try to distort it. If you see the magazine “Dabiq” which belongs to ISIS, you would feel that Al Qaeda is targeted more than the Americans, the Rafidhah (Shi’a) and the Nusayris by the media propaganda of this group. So when you become filled with this propaganda whether it is based on truth or falsehood, then even if you split from ISIS, you will not join Al Qaeda. And this is the practical application of the theory

of the propaganda of lies as spoken about by Shaykh Abu Qatada in his audio series on globalization. He says, ‘A certain party will tell lies to their supporters and will continue lying to them until they reach the point where these lies take the place of certainty, and even if the truth is revealed to them after having reached this stage, then it will have no effect upon them as they have lived with the lie until they have reached the point of no return. This principle can be summed up in the saying of the Nazi minister of propaganda, Joseph Gobbels “Lie and continue to lie until the people believe you”.

So we have 3 options:

  • Join Al Qaeda and resume the stage of Jihad
  • Abandon Jihad altogether and all that is related to it, and return to the stage that was prior to migration and prior to practicing the religion (And this is if the governments accept this, because sometimes you may want to make such a step but because you participated in Jihad, the governments will mostly throw you in prison when you return back to your country. And rather than live a new life your association with the Jihadi prisoners in prison will compel you to continue on the same path rather than give up.)
  • The formation of a new entity, independent of Al Qaeda which will attract all those who have lost faith in Al Qaeda and ISIS alike.

As for which will be the most chosen option, it is difficult to judge that for now.


[1] Letter to Shaykh Abu Musab al Zarqawi, p. 14.

[2] Complete letters and directives of Shaykh Usama bin Ladin, p. 771.

[3] Answering the questioner on matters of new issues (1/16).

[4] “The believer is not stung from the same hole twice” Saheeh Muslim: 2998, Saheeh al Bukhari :6133.

[5] A long time ago I asked Shaykh al Maqdisi about women travelling to the Khilafa state after one of them asked me about this. And I wrote an article about that which is translated into English, and he sent this audio recording in which he says: “This is one of the calamities which we have advised them about, and they disregarded our advice. They have even taken their passports from them, and the widows from amongst them are married off by the will of the judge whenever their husbands are killed. They cram the women along with their children in crowded and neglected places like stables of animals, in large groups. One of them comes and proposes marriage to them and they accept it just to get out of this overcrowded and neglected place. The situation is very miserable. Many of them are regretful and wish that they were able to flee. Despite all that, there are still those who are naïve and leave their countries and go there. We have heard several misfortunes.

I have sought permission from Shaykh al Maqdisi before spreading this recording as well as the answer, and he agreed to it, and modified and added to the text. Both these recordings are exclusive and have not been published before.

[6] Answers to the Hisbah forum, p. 14.


Tore Hamming:

I will add in with a brief comment to the topic of the generational divide.

Joining the ‘hottest’ Jihadi outlet of the time has always been the choice of the youth. We know from the Sinjar records that in the time of al-Qaida in Iraq, the average age of people joining was between 24 and 25. From internal Islamic State documents, processed in the CTC’s “The Caliphate’s Global Workforce” we see an almost similar average age of people joining the Islamic State, with recruits being between 26 and 27.

The Islamic State has thus become the standard choice of the youth wanting to join a Jihadi project. It has provided the youth an outlet where they can channel their frustrations violently and especially their media machine has been of essential importance to attract people. The hope of al-Qaida is that although the Islamic State propaganda machine has been efficient in attracting people, then the experience of having witnessed the state from the inside will cause them to leave. However, the big question is then where will they go? Will they join al-Qaida, leave Jihad altogether or will a new movement see the light as the Islamic State is losing momentum?

At the moment, it is still too early to come up with an answer to the question. Al-Qaida will, of course, do its best to attract people who become disillusioned with the Islamic State project – both al-Zawahiri and al-Maqdisi have kept the door open for people to join al-Qaida. The al-Qaida leadership has been criticised for its ‘long and boring’ lectures, which were in contrast to the more aggressive rhetoric of Islamic State leaders. However, al-Qaida is currently experiencing renewed popularity. Al-Zawahiri is on a charm offensive in his recent video statements and a younger generation of al-Qaida sympathetic ideologues like Abdallah al-Muhaysini is helping to increase the cool-factor of the movement in the eyes of the younger generation.

A whole generation is currently growing up with violence as a normality. Some of them will eventually continue of the road of Jihad, but that they necessarily choose either the Islamic State or al-Qaida is not a certainty.

The future approach of al-Qaeda

Posted: 23rd September 2016 by Tore Hamming in AQ Central, Bin Laden, Nusra Front, Zawahiri

This is the second Q&A of the interview series with Ahmed Al Hamdan (@a7taker), a Jihadi-Salafi analyst and author of “Methodological Difference Between ISIS and Al Qaida“. Al Hamdan was a former friend of Turki bin Ali, and a student of Shaykh Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi under whom he studied and was given Ijazah, becoming one of his official students. Also, Shaykh Abu Qatada al Filistini wrote an introduction for his book when it was published in the Arabic language. The interview series contains contains five themes in total and will all be published on You can find the first Q&A here.

Tore Hamming:

In July 2016, Jabhat al-Nusra broke away from AQ and established Jabhat Fatah ash-Shaam with the blessing of the senior AQ leadership. In his most recent speech (Brief Messages to a Supported Ummah 4) Zawahiri furthermore encouraged Jihadi factions in Iraq to unify and fight IS and Iran. Is the approach of a popular front not necessarily with allegiance to AQ, but simply being sympathetic to the movement, becoming the future for AQ?

Ahmed Al Hamdan:

There is a mistake in the question, as al Zawahiri did not seek the factions in Iraq to unite to fight the Islamic state, not in episode 4 nor in any part of the series.

Secondly: we must understand that wars and battles are magnets which attract Jihadi thinkers and I do not think that you would find a battle front or any popular movement whose people are not sons of the Jihadi movement. And we must understand that al Qaeda do not look to the matter from the perspective of upholding its name and achieving its organisational goals and if that was indeed the case, then they would not have accepted the breaking of ties with al Nusra for the benefit of the Muslims in Syria.

Read the rest of this entry »

When Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, the leader of al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, announced on July 28, 2016 that he was dissolving his group and setting up a new one, Jabhat Fath al-Sham (JFS, “the Front for the Conquest of Sham”), that would not be subordinate to al-Qaida, he put to rest more than a year of speculation that such a move was in the offing. Jabhat al-Nusra had been, after all, prepared to end its formal relationship with al-Qaida. But in settling one question Jawlani raised two more: Was Jabhat al-Nusra (now JFS) really distancing itself from the terrorist organization? And had al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri really given this separation (real or nominal) his blessing?

The first question is perhaps best left to governments and journalists, but there is at least one reason to see the rebranding as more than superficial. This is that Jawlani’s maneuver alienated a number of prominent Jabhat al-Nusra hardliners who have yet to join JFS. (One rumor puts the number of these “defectors” at well over a hundred.) Presumably these men felt that joining JFS would amount to endorsing an excessively moderate and inclusive political vision.

The second question, whether Zawahiri blessed this rebranding, also remains open. To be sure, Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaida portrayed the move as having al-Qaida’s support—as an amicable separation. But the Islamic State has begged to differ. The true story, in its view, is that the “traitor” Jawlani struck again: having betrayed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State back in 2013, he turned on Zawahiri and al-Qaida in 2016. Such a view should perhaps be viewed with skepticism, but it also deserves consideration. Understanding both sides of the story requires first revisiting some of the words of Zawahiri that are key to both narratives.

Zawahiri’s mixed message

On May 8, 2016, al-Qaida’s official al-Sahab Media Foundation issued an audio statement from Zawahiri concerning the war in Syria. Coming to the issue of Jabhat al-Nusra’s relationship with al-Qaida, Zawahiri delivered a most mixed message. That it was mixed is shown by the contradictory headlines it generated. “Zawahiri: Syria’s Nusra Free to Break al-Qaeda Links” was the title of an al-Jazeera English article. “Zawahiri Warns Nusra against Separating from al-Qaida” was the title of an article in an Arabic newspaper. Evidently, what the al-Qaida leader had said was unclear.

Read the rest of this entry »

This is the first Q&A of the interview series with Ahmed Al Hamdan (@a7taker), a Jihadi-Salafi analyst and author of “Methodological Difference Between ISIS and Al Qaida“. Al Hamdan was a former friend of Turki bin Ali, and a student of Shaykh Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi under whom he studied and was given Ijazah, becoming one of his official students. Also, Shaykh Abu Qatada al Filistini wrote an introduction for his book when it was published in the Arabic language. The interview series contains contains five themes in total and will all be published on


Tore Hamming:

Back in 2014, the Islamic State (IS) was winning territory while IS affiliated media and its official spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani were extremely active propagating its successes. In the meantime al-Qaida (AQ) leader Ayman al-Zawahiri remained quiet. Now, in mid-2016, it seems to be the opposite situation as IS is loosing territory, while al-Adnani is increasingly absent from the media scene. Zawahiri, on the other hand, has lately been very active with several speech series e.g. The Islamic Spring and Brief Messages to a Supported Ummah. What does this development tell you?

Ahmed Al Hamdan:

This is due to several reasons. Firstly, during the period in which Adnani came out several times, there were several successes achieved by this group such as them conquering large areas of Iraq and Syria and the opening of branches outside the region of Iraq and Syria. Normally when commercial companies make any profit, they exploit these profits for strengthening their advertising and marketing. So the multiple appearances of Adnani during that period is a normal thing and in accordance with the circumstances which his group was going through at that time. However as for Zawahiri appearing only rarely, there are a number of reasons such as:

Firstly, Al Fajr centre (the media forum for the Mujahideen) which releases publications of all the branches of Al Qaeda contained within its ranks people who were sympathetic to the Islamic State. And these people would delay any verbal attack that would be launched from any branch of Al-Qaeda…!! And they would delay any correspondence relating to the same matter and would even send it to the leaders of ISIS and then the leaders of ISIS would make preemptive attacks in advance to absorb the effect of the publication of Al-Qaeda that was sent to Al Fajr Centre to be released. An example of this is the seventh interview by As-Sahab Foundation with Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri which got published under the title “The reality between pain and hope”. They released the speech of Adnani “This was not our methodology and it will never be” before releasing the interview, and also the release of this seventh interview by As-Sahab Foundation with Dr. Zawahiri was delayed for around twelve days, even though the date of this interview by As-Sahab was before the speech of Adnani. But the speech of Adnani got released before it. So Al Fair centre played the biggest role in transforming the sympathy of many in the Jihadi movement to make them support the Islamic State through this manipulation by them, in addition to Al Fajr center turning to be a defence for ISIS.

And when the well known Jihadi researcher, Abdullah bin Muhammad, wrote about the possibility of the ranks of ISIS being infiltrated as had happened in the Algerian Jihad, this centre took an unusual step of issuing an official statement… !!! They falsified this man and accused him of lying..!!!! And so the branches of Al Qaeda began to ignore this centre and they changed their means of publication by using their own two media delegates in the social media sites in a direct manner. For example the account ‘Abdullah al Mujahid’ belongs to Al Qaeda of Yemen, and ‘Abu Mus’ab Ash-Shanqiti’ belongs to Al Qaeda of Khurasan. And so they began to release all the publications directly without having the need for any intermediaries.

And what must be noted is that these are not exclusive information that are known only to those close to these sources, but they are known to anyone who used to follow the Jihadi forums. And the reality is just as a friend had said, that the Jihadi groups and their media establishments were like closed boxes which not even those close to them would know as to what they contained inside them. However the Fitna (tribulation) of ISIS caused every secret to become publicly known..! And I don’t say known only to the supporters of these groups but also to all the people. This relieved the intelligence and the security agencies a lot, and so they no longer have to tire themselves much like how it was in the past in order to know what is inside the house of their enemy..! Thus there occurred polarization between two competitors and each would speak publicly on secret issues causing the other party to be the accused one which would make them want to defend themselves. And so they too would speak publicly about secret issues..!!. Due to this rivalry a lot of secrets became publicly known. And all praise belongs to Allah in every case.

Secondly, another matter is that Al-Qaeda needed to get its internal ranks to be set in order after they got swept by a tide. Previously there had been elements within Al Qaeda who were sympathetic towards the Islamic State but now the matter has developed and these sympathizers began to pledge allegiance to the Islamic state…! And they began to promote it from inside the ranks of Al Qaeda. So it would not be wise at such a time to come out in public frequently and release statements while your internal ranks have become flimsy and shaky. The priority was to rectify the internal ranks and absorb this attack. And in fact because of the stupidity of ISIS in taking the initiative in attacking the leaders of Al Qaeda in their other branches and slandering them and spreading doubtful allegations which would reach to the point of Takfeer upon them, this contributed to the awareness of some of those who were deceived by ISIS previously and they said that yes it is true that we differ with Al Qaeda in some issues, but not to the extent of Takfeer.

Yet despite that, I used to think and still now think that the role of Al Qaeda’s media was negative to some extent because of them continuing to have hopes that ISIS would return back to the right path. Also from the mistakes committed by the media of Al Qaeda in general was to not confront in an official manner the charges made against them by ISIS. For example Abu Ubaida Al-Lubnani who was the former security official of Al-Qaeda before being expelled and giving the pledge of allegiance to ISIS, was one of the members of Al-Qaeda of Khurasan, and he had written his testimony in the official publication of ISIS known as ‘An-Naba’. And then his former friend known as Abu Kareemah wrote an article in refutation to his testimony, but this was done in his individual capacity through the website of “Justpaste”, and he made evident many of the lies and contradictions that were present in this testimony..!

However I ask, which would have a greater impact- when the group Al-Qaeda officially adopts this article and publishes it through a media wing, or when its author publishes it by himself on his own capacity? By this, you will cause people to ask as to what is the evidence that Abu Kareemah is actually a Mujahid from Khurasan?! And what is the evidence that he is the actual author of this article? There is no doubt that the people will take the official publication as being more credible. On the other hand we see that in every issue of Dabiq, ISIS would heap allegations against Al-Qaeda even to the point of saying that they are agents and disbelievers, while the official media of Al-Qaeda represented by their two magazines “Resurgence” and “Inspire” would completely avoid responding to these allegations and would be content with the writings of some of the leaders and soldiers who would publish them in an unofficial manner.

And if I was a simple Jihadi follower, I would interpret the lack of official response by Al-Qaeda as a weakness in their standpoint, and I would not interpret this as a desire to not escalate the matter so as to not cut off the road for ISIS to come back to the right path. Rather I would say “If the talk that is being spread regarding this matter is not correct then they would have responded to it at the earliest”. But this is a mistaken policy which contributed to increasing the number of ISIS followers from amongst the Jihadi supporters.

With regards to the frequent appearances of Dr. Ayman lately, I sat down with my companions and I said to them “Let us think in the way how the men of intelligence agencies think. Can it be reasonable that these speeches are recent ones? That is they are published just a few days after been recorded? Or are they all recorded before some weeks, if not months, and then published gradually? Obviously it is the second one that is correct. And it is never wise in terms of security for the one who is number one in the wanted list of the security agencies to publish his statement in close intervals as this strengthens the chances of getting hold of the link in the thread which will lead towards him. The security official of Al-Qaeda, Abdullah Adam [1] has said “Two people who keep moving will definitely meet each other at some point”.  But when you decrease the movement, then there is a greater level for your safety.

Brief analysis of answer:

In the early stage after the Islamic State left the al-Qaida network (or was thrown out depending on the perspective), it won the fight both on the battlefield and in the media. Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri simply did not respond forcefully enough as the fitna erupted. In this regard, however, it is interesting to consider the position and influence of the Jihadi media foundations. If the account Ahmed Al Hamdan gives of the Al Fajr Centre’s role in delaying Zawahiri’s attempt of responding to the attacks from the Islamic State holds true, this would point to a critical interference of the media foundations. Interestingly, Al Fajr was also accused of refusing to publish Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s response (titled “Remaining in Iraq and the Levant”, 14 June 2013) to Zawahiri’s ruling that the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham should remain in Iraq only. If both stories are true, it shows an ambiguous role of Al Fajr, fighting an internal struggle to choose side.

Al Hamdan’s account also pinpoints another important factor in order to grasp Zawahiri’s initial passivity. Due to the increasing sympathy towards the Islamic State within al-Qaida, Zawahiri needed to get his house in order before publically taking a stance. Had he been too explicit in his critique of the Islamic State at this point, he would have risked to push away many al-Qaida members. This probably happened anyway though as his passive approach was interpreted as weakness by many.

Perhaps al-Qaida did not realise the seriousness of the situation quickly enough. Whereas the Islamic State utilised all channels of communication and propaganda as efficiently as possible, al-Qaida was hesitant and too conservative (well they are Salafis after all) in their communication instead of empowering its followers through the use of official media centres. On this point, Ahmed Al Hamdan is correct.

In summary, as the Islamic State challenged al-Qaida neither Zawahiri nor his organisation were prepared to counter the aggressiveness of its renegade affiliate. Baffled by the context where it found itself abandoned by its media foundations and its followers, al-Qaida was left in the backseat. But the tide is changing. The Islamic State has less and less to brag about, while Zawahiri is taking the position of the old wise man, who is following a long-term strategy, slowly attracting public support and taking back followers from the Islamic State. This is evident from the number of piblic statements from the two organisations’ leaders. While statements from Baghdadi or Adnani (before his death) have become increasingly rare, Zawahiri has released two series of speeches (first “the Islamic Spring” series followed by “Brief Messages to a Supported Ummah”) recently, giving the impression that he is now once again the main authority within the Global Jihadi movement.

UPDATE: Ahmed Al Hamdan responds to analysis and elaborates on the role of the Jihadi media

The release “Remaining in Iraq and Sham” by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had been previously published by the Islamic State independently, and it is capable of spreading its material quickly and directly. And this is different to the one who has committed himself to method of publishing specifically through Al Fajr Centre. So if this person wants to change his policy it will take him a long time to search for alternative means and he must increase his security before replacing the method of publication. Those who sympathised with the State within Al Fajr Centre took advantage of the fact that the centre was the only source for spreading the material of Al Qaeda to delay or even prevent the arrival of communications between the different branches of Al Qaeda concerning the matter of the Islamic State. And I will give some examples:

The brother Abu Umar al Najdi is a Mujahid from Yemen who wrote under the name “The loyal companion” on twitter and was recommended by the other Mujahideen from Yemen who were present on twitter, for example “Mohamed al Malaki” who is one of the Mujahideen who had previously been in Afghanistan and then went to Yemen. This person published a confidential letter which had been sent from a veteran leader of Al Qaeda who was present in Syria i.e. Muhsin Al Fadli, to the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He said in it:

Attached with this letter is the letter of Shaykh Abu Khalid al Suri, may Allah accept him, which he sent to Dr. Ayman during the first day of the Fitna, also the statements and the claims of both Al Nusra and The State [IS] which I have previously sent to Dr. Ayman, may Allah protect him, and the audio message of Al Jawlani clarifying the causes of the problem and also the audio witness testimony of (…..) and Abu Azeez al Qatari. And for your information I have sent it to you again despite having sent it before through (…..) who is the representative of the leader of Al Fajr Centre – I sent it to you again to make sure that it would reach you.

Abu Umar al Najdi said, commenting in the margin of this letter about the text:

The attachments and testimonies which the writer of the letter sent at the beginning of the Fitna of the State by way of Al Fajr Centre, never arrived to Shaykh Abu Baseer [Wuhayshi] and only arrived with this letter. And he warned everyone to be careful in dealing with Al Fajr Centre and there are suspicious and frightening dealings which did not come from new members, rather from the senior members within the centre. And Allahs refuge is sought.

This explains why the branch in Yemen stopped publishing articles through al Fajr Centre and instead began publishing through their own representative “Abdullah Mujahid”

So, if the Islamic State had not been able to publish their material in any way other than through Al Fajr Centre and despite that the Centre did not publish their material, then at that time we would be able to have doubt and ask if it was true that those people were really sympathetic to the State?

Interestingly, my opinion matches his opinion regarding the reason why fighters went over into the ranks of the Islamic State. And look what this leader said to Abu Baseer:

Now the third generation of the Mujahideen are influenced by the thinking of the State and this is due to a number of reasons, including the strength of the State media, another reason being the silence of the leaders of Al Qaeda and the absence of clarifying the methodological mistakes of the State, making the youth of the Nation go to them and here the Nation has lost out by the silence of the Jihadi movement about these errors.  And may Allah reward you with good for publishing the statement of Shaykh Harith al Nadhari as it clarified and made plain many rulings, however while we have now spoken of the reality, it has unfortunately come too late. And why did you not previously speak out and clarify the ruling about the fake Khilafah of Al Baghdadi. This is necessary for us to restore the confidence of the rational, confident and self-assured youth of the Ummah in Al Qaeda, so don’t postpose the speech beyond its time in order to take a neutral position as this policy is no longer going to work in the face of the behaviour and folly of the state.

It is hard to avoid a feeling of déjà vu. Back in 2013, an established al-Qaida ideologue lamented the decline of the jihadi web forums, warning users against migrating to social media platforms Twitter and Facebook and calling for a revival of the forums as the “main theater” of internet jihad. The appeal of course failed to persuade, as the platforms, and Twitter in particular, surged in popularity and left the forums in the dust. Fast forward three years, and again things are changing. Now, a jihadi author is lamenting the decline of the social media platforms, warning users against migrating to Telegram, an encrypted messaging service, and calling for the revival of Twitter and Facebook as the locus of web-based jihad.

The al-Qaida ideologue from 2013, while ultimately unpersuasive, was right on one count. He predicted that a day would come when the social media platforms would “shut their doors in our faces.” And indeed, the crackdown on the jihadis of Twitter has finally come. (Even my ghost accounts for following them are being deleted.) Yet those targeted have not gone running back to the forums, as this ideologue would have liked. Rather, they have gravitated towards the new hot commodity, Telegram, which has gradually replaced Twitter as the primary online home for the Islamic State and its supporters. Not everyone, however, is so pleased with the relocation.

The Warner

One of those speaking out is the pseudonymous Abu Usama Sinan al-Ghazzi, a pro-Islamic State writer who authored a short essay last month titled “O Supporters of the Caliphate, Do Not Withdraw into Telegram,” published by the al-Wafa’ Media Foundation (wafa’ meaning “faithfulness”). Al-Ghazzi, whose name suggests a Ghazan origin, has been writing in support of the Islamic State since at least July 2013, when he penned a post calling for greater coordination of media efforts between the Islamic State and its supporters. The importance of the online support network is a running theme in his writings. In his 2013 post, he described the need to fight back against “the greatest campaign of disinformation…history has known,” urging his readers “not to be satisfied with fighting [alone]; rather, confront [the enemies] with both the tongue and the spear.” While not a particularly distinguished author, al-Ghazzi’s work deserves attention for being published by an important media outlet.

Al-Wafa’ belongs to an elite group of semi-official media organizations that promote the Islamic State online, previously by means of Twitter but now mostly via Telegram. (Al-Wafa’s decline on Twitter is captured by the pictures of pears it is currently using to hide from the censors.) The other big two organizations are the al-Battar Media Foundation (Battar meaning “saber”) and the al-Sumud Media Foundation (Sumud meaning “steadfastness”). The three are known primarily for their ideological output in the form of essays, poems, and books, and they often work hand-in-hand with the Islamic State’s official media organizations. For example, al-Battar is responsible for producing the transcripts of Islamic State speeches and videos, and al-Sumud has the privilege of publishing the new poems of the Islamic State’s official poetess, Ahlam al-Nasr, every week or so. When the Islamic State launches a concerted media campaign across its provinces, such as its December 2015 campaign calling for jihad in Saudi Arabia, the semi-official organizations also participate. In the Saudi campaign, they released dozens of essays by dozens of anonymous authors, all encouraging jihad there.

It is unclear how many of these authors, like Ahlam al-Nasr, reside in the lands of the caliphate, but occasionally they claim to be speaking from there, or they seem to possess insider knowledge. Neither is the case with al-Ghazzi, though he certainly speaks for more than just himself on the subject at hand.

The Warning

In his essay, al-Ghazzi bemoans the fact that Twitter and Facebook have been losing members to Telegram. This shift, as J.M. Berger has explained, can be traced to September 2015, when the Telegram service introduced a feature called broadcast channels, which added Twitter-like functionality to an app that was previously much like WhatsApp. For many jihadis, Telegram’s arrival was a welcome development, providing a permissive environment for communicating and spreading their message online at a time when Twitter was deleting their accounts more rapidly. But for al-Ghazzi, it was unwelcome, even disastrous.

The Telegram frenzy began, in al-Ghazzi’s telling, at a crucial time in the online war between the “crusaders” and the Islamic State and its supporters. The two sides were engaged in an all-out war for control of the Twittersphere, a war that al-Ghazzi believed his side was winning. The crusaders were being forced to delete thousands and thousands of accounts, but to no avail. Unable to do anything more, the crusaders had “surrendered to reality.” Then along came Telegram, and the jihadis began abandoning the battlefield.

The allure of Telegram was the security and stability it offered relative to Twitter. The chances of one’s account being deleted were much lower, as they still are. “Many of the brothers preferred Telegram over other [platforms],” al-Ghazzi explains, “in view of the small number of deletion operations to which the supporters were exposed on Telegram.” Another attraction was the ability to hide from those who might report one to the censors. On Telegram, channel operators can “change the channels…into private channels,” so as to avoid being targeted for deletion. Here al-Ghazzi is referring to the two different kinds of broadcast channels that Telegram offers.

For those unfamiliar, here is how Telegram defines channels: “Channels are a tool for broadcasting public messages to large audiences. In fact, channels can have an unlimited number of members.” And here’s its explanation of the difference between public and private channels: “Public channels have a username. Anyone can find them in Telegram search and join. Private channels are closed societies—you need to be added by the creator or get an invite link to join.”

Most of the channels supporting the Islamic State, in my experience, are of the private kind. This means they are not accessible to the broader public. When a new private channel is formed, the other Telegram channels circulate an invitation link that usually expires within hours. The result is that the Islamic State’s supporters on Telegram are a rather isolated community. They create an echo-chamber. (Only some of the private channels maintain parallel public channels, as do al-Wafa’ and al-Sumud, but not al-Battar.)

It is this introverted orientation of Telegram that, according to al-Ghazzi, makes it so unattractive. Among Telegram’s “negatives” he lists the fact that channels are limited to “a specified group and faction determined by the owner of the channel,” and that “searching for channels is not allowed.” “The other platforms,” by contrast, such as Twitter and Facebook, “are open to the masses,” which means they can reach a much larger audience. Telegram, in other words, is bad for outreach.

Al-Ghazzi sums up his warning thus: “Do not withdraw into Telegram.” And he ends with a plea: “Come back to Twitter and Facebook, for our mission is greater than this and deeper. Those we seek to reach, we will not find them on Telegram in the way desired, as we will find them on Twitter and Facebook.”

The Warned

Al-Ghazzi’s essay raises the question whether the Islamic State’s supporters will heed his warning or not. For the moment, the answer seems to be not. His appeal looks to be going the way of the ideologue’s who warned against migrating to Twitter and Facebook back in 2013. Momentum is clearly in Telegram’s favor. The jihadis, it seems, are just not willing to create new Twitter accounts every day when there exists a perfectly good alternative that goes little patrolled.

The more diehard pro-Islamic State Twitter accounts are also, like al-Ghazzi, complaining of a lack of dedication to the platform. “O supporters of the Islamic Caliphate,” a prominent account tweeted a few days ago, “be you warned against laziness and negligence on your battlegrounds!” Less prominent accounts are also complaining. One tweeted two weeks ago: “Where are the supporters, where are their accounts? Where is our power on Twitter that the nations of polytheism were being terrified by?” These are expressions of nostalgia. Twitter has ceased to be the jihadi playground it once was—at least for fans of the Islamic State.

Who is Iyad Qunaybi?

Posted: 15th June 2016 by Joas Wagemakers in Jordan, social media

For years, many Jihadi-Salafi scholars and fighters from several countries have been dealt with in articles about global jihad (and here on Jihadica, of course). One country that has supplied quite a number of these people is Jordan. Men such as Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filastini have long been involved in or have commented upon all things jihad. One person who could be included in this group but has not received anywhere near the attention that the three mentioned above have received is the relatively unknown Iyad Qunaybi.


According to Qunaybi’s website, he was born in Kuwait on 22 October 1975, although he and his family moved to Amman in Jordan when he was still a baby. Given that his parents were Palestinians from Hebron, they were officially Jordanian citizens (the Hashimite kingdom controlled the West Bank from 1948-1967 and made all its inhabitants citizens) so moving to Jordan was presumably a relatively easy step to take. This nevertheless makes Qunaybi a bit of an outlier, however.

Although there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian-Jordanians with roots in Kuwait, where they moved to in two different waves (immediately after 1948 and, later, in the 1950s and 1960s), the overwhelming majority of them only returned in the early 1990s, when Kuwait expelled virtually all its Palestinians after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had implicitly supported Saddam Husayn’s Iraq in its invasion of the tiny Gulf kingdom. As we will see, the fact that Qunaybi moved to Jordan in the 1970s – rather than the early 1990s, like most other Kuwaiti Palestinians – is not the only thing in which Qunaybi is slightly different than other jihadi thinkers.


Qunaybi apparently showed an interest in literature as a child, according to his website, did well in school and went on to get a BA-degree from the Jordanian University of Science and Technology in 1998. Interestingly, he also practised taekwondo at this time and, perhaps more importantly for his future career, started reading Islamist literature by Sayyid Qutb while studying in Jordan. He subsequently went to the University of Houston to get a PhD in pharmacology in 1999, which he obtained in 2003.

Thus, unlike some have said, Qunaybi is not a “cleric” or a scholar of Islam. This, again, makes him a bit of an odd one out, since many of today’s radical jihadi ideologues do make some claim to having studied Islamic law, creed or another, related subject at university or elsewhere. On the other hand, he is also not one of the many Islamists with a degree in engineering. While jihadis with a medical background are also not unheard of – Ayman al-Zawahiri comes to mind, of course – Qunaybi also seems to be an outlier in this respect.


Qunaybi’s lack of formal training in the Islamic “sciences” has not stopped him from engaging in calling others to Islam (da’wa). Starting in 1997, his website says, he and his friends started producing tapes that they handed out among Muslims after Friday services at various mosques. During this period – which coincided not only with his studies but also with Qunaybi’s publishing of a fair number of academic articles on pharmacological topics – he also engaged in listening to scholars’ tapes and reading Qur’anic exegesis. Interestingly, the ‘ulama’ whose books he read appear to have been rather diverse, including classical scholars like Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, radical Muslim Brothers like Sayyid Qutb, quietist Salafis like Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani and Jihadi-Salafis like Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi.

If Qunaybi’s website is to be believed, he also took individual lessons from numerous and – again – rather diverse scholars, which – after he returned to Jordan from the United States in 2003 – he began translating into da’wa activities in Jordan. His message was not uncontroversial, however, and his being influenced by some radical scholars as well as his choice of politically sensitive subjects such as the validity of democracy or the characteristics of the Khawarij ensured that he attracted the attention of the authorities in Jordan.


Given the sensitivity of the topics Qunaybi talked about in his sermons, talks and other da’wa activities and considering that the Jordanian regime was highly suspicious of such things at the time, it was perhaps not surprising that Qunaybi was arrested and imprisoned for twenty days in 2010. Only afterwards, some seven months after he’d been released, he was told what he had supposedly done wrong – having ties with foreign nations and recruiting for the Taliban – and was rearrested and imprisoned for two-and-a-half years.

Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi was also involved in this case at the time and was imprisoned along with Qunaybi. Given that the charges against al-Maqdisi were probably trumped up and used to take away the freedom of a man who was preaching a radical message relatively unimpeded, the same may well be true for Qunaybi. Both men were probably seen as a nuisance by the Jordanian regime, attracting followers and perhaps even gaining new adherents while not engaging in terrorist acts themselves.

Although al-Maqdisi had to serve his entire sentence, the public outcry that Qunaybi claims followed his own sentencing resulted in his having to serve only 470 days in prison and he was subsequently released on 4 January 2013, after which he went back to teaching at university and publishing on pharmacological topics. Qunaybi nevertheless speaks positively about his time in prison, stating on his website that he benefitted greatly from the isolation that it gave him, enabling him to read a lot, write a lot of poems and learn from the experiences of other Islamist prisoners, “their morals, their patience, their love for God the most high and the contemplation of the Qur’an”.

“Arab Spring”

Once out of prison, Qunaybi started making full use of social media, including YouTube (on which he has his own channel), Twitter (in English (@DrEyadQunaibi) and Arabic (@Dr_EyadQun)) and Facebook. Since then, Qunaybi has been extremely active on social media to state his points of view on a host of issues, perhaps particularly on what was still called the “Arab Spring” at the time. The revolts against Arab regimes were at their most successful when Qunaybi was in prison, but they had already begun to show signs of being derailed when he was released. It is this aspect that Qunaybi has commented on in particular.

Qunaybi takes a view of the revolts in the Arab world that differs entirely from how quietist Salafis – who reject the demonstrations and revolutions altogether – feel about them, but also from what the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – which saw the revolution as a good thing – believe. Unlike them, Qunaybi claims that the revolutions that have taken place should be completed by cleansing the states affected by these revolts of the deep states that are actually pulling the strings, rather than merely getting rid of the dictator at the top. While many a political scientist may sympathise with this analysis or even agree with it, it’s not one found (or at least not one talking as explicitly about “deep states”) among many Jihadi-Salafis.

A Jihadi-Salafi?

This brings up the question of whether Iyad Qunaybi can actually be seen as a Jihadi-Salafi. If we define Salafism – as I do in many publications on the subject, including this one – as the branch of Sunni Islam whose adherents claim to emulate “the pious predecessors” (al-salaf al-salih) as closely and in as many spheres of life as possible, we can see from the list of scholars whose work he read mentioned above that he was certainly no stranger to Salafism. Moreover, if we define Jihadi-Salafism – as I have done many times, for example here – as the branch of Salafism whose adherents do not limit jihad to fighting non-Muslims outside of the dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam) in either offensive or defensive wars, but who believe that jihad may also be used to fight the “apostate” rulers of the Muslim world itself, Qunaybi again seems sympathetic to that. His reading of Qutb and al-Maqdisi suggests as much, as do his personal closeness to the latter and his statements on the war in Syria (more on both these matters later).

Yet when I asked Qunaybi about this matter in a telephone conversation once, he refused to be labelled a (Jihadi-)Salafi. A more elaborate statement on this issue can be found in an article he wrote entitled “Does Iyad Qunaybi belong to Jihadi-Salafism?” In this article, he tells his readers that he’s often asked this question and replies that he is not part of any trend or movement. He does, however, like Jihadi-Salafis and calls for the release of their prisoners. They are closest to him, he claims, and advises them without actually being part of their trend or movement itself.


Whatever the label he uses for himself, it is clear that Qunaybi’s views are rooted in ideas shared by many Jihadi-Salafis. He clearly rejects democracy, for example, and one reason he does so is that its rule is based on man-made laws (qawanin wad’iyya), rather than the shari’a. That, in Qunaybi’s view, is clearly sinful, as scholars established long before the “Arab Spring”. Islamist parties, he states, should not get involved in the democratic process, because that will cause them to moderate their views and abandon their principles. This, interestingly enough, is precisely what some political scientists have labelled the “inclusion-moderation thesis”: the idea that inclusion in the political process – with its need to compromise, forge coalitions and gain and retain power – will cause ideologically rigid groups to moderate their views.

Qunaybi’s alternative to Islamist political participation is simple: da’wa (the call to Islam) or jihad. This is more or less also the advice he gives to his readers and specifically to some of the people who have actually got involved in the political process in countries affected by the “Arab Spring”. He advises the former Egyptian Salafi presidential candidate Hazim Abu Isma’il not to get into politics, partly because “we want you to be with the dedicated callers [to Islam”. Qunaybi is also very much against cooperating with non-shari’a courts and founding political parties. Citing a fatwa by al-Maqdisi issued via the the Shari’a Council of the latter’s website, Qunaybi advises the Tunisian Ansar al-Shari’a group to refrain from appealing to secular courts. He similarly scolds the Egyptian Salafi political party Hizb al-Nur for their support for a “polytheistic” constitution and their ties to the army.


Another aspect of the “Arab Spring” – the revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Asad in Syria – has also been discussed much by Qunaybi. From the start, it has been pretty clear that Qunaybi’s preference lies with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qa’ida. In May 2013, he praised its leader, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, in an article and wished that he would be “a sting in the throats of the criminals”. Still, he advises all jihadis in Syria to stop fighting each other and to realise that all groups fighting the regime consist of Muslims. He even advised the then Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and had good things to say about its spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani.

Yet in late 2013, Qunaybi was forced to defend himself against the charge of singling out ISIS for criticism by pointing out that he had actually criticised a number of groups fighting in Syria. Still, Qunaybi was getting increasingly critical of ISIS, as were many others. In an article written in early 2014, he laments the fact that ISIS-leaders refuse independent arbitration between themselves and other militant groups in Syria and wonders whether, if ISIS only sees itself as legitimate, their project is really meant for the entire Muslim community, as the organisation claims it is. In the same article, he also regrets that jihadi infighting in Syria shows ordinary people that even jihadis themselves do not agree on the shari’a.

Beaten up

Qunaybi’s criticism went further than simply complaining about ISIS’s and later IS’s behaviour, however. In July 2014, after the organisation had changed its name into IS, Qunaybi published a series of articles (here, here and here) in which he clearly states that the announcement of a caliphate does not add anything to an organisation if it cannot back up its words with facts on the ground. Although he makes clear that establishing a caliphate is something he supports in principle, it needs to be viable through power and control over land. Crucially, Qunaybi also states that a caliphate should be there for the entire Muslim community, not just part of it, and that establishing a caliphate does not become a duty until Muslims are actually capable of doing so.

Not surprisingly, supporters of the Islamic State in Jordan did not take too kindly to Qunaybi’s criticism of IS. In response, several IS-supporters attacked and beat up Qunaybi with clubs, smashed the wind screen of his car, while apparently shouting pro-IS slogans. The attack was not only condemned by leaders of the Jordanian Jihadi-Salafi movement, but Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi – with whom he used to be imprisoned – even came round to his house to pay him a solidarity visit in which he strongly condemned the attack on Qunaybi and the use of such methods to deal with those who disagree with you.

Imprisoned again

And then, exactly a year ago today, amid his criticism of IS, it was reported that Qunaybi had been arrested again, this time for apparently “destroying the ruling regime“. A few days later, it became clear that he was actually accused of inciting against the regime and speaking ill of the American ambassador to Jordan on Facebook. Although it thus appeared as if Qunaybi was not as dangerous as reported at first, he was nevertheless refused bail the next month and his trial did not actually start until September 2015. As with so many other court cases in Jordan, the verdict of this one was announced as planned for late October but was actually delayed.

In December last year, however, Qunaybi was sentenced to two years in prison for inciting against the regime. Although the sentence was lower than the prosecution wanted (three years imprisonment), Qunaybi’s lawyer nevertheless protested that his client was not guilty of incitement against the regime at all. The original Facebook post that started all this, one article stated, had merely protested “the visit to Jordan by [then] President of the Zionist entity Shimon Peres, the meeting of homosexuals in Amman with the participation of the American ambassador to Jordan and normalisation practices with the Zionist entity”. Interestingly, the original Facebook post – which, surprisingly, can still be read here – is called “Jordan and the rush to the abyss” and does, indeed, deal with these issues and not so much with direct attacks on the regime.

Given his apparent innocence of the charges levelled against him, it was perhaps not surprising that Qunaybi sought to protest his sentence and he did so by going on hunger strike while in prison. It is not clear whether this was a factor in the Jordanian Court of Cassation’s decision, in March 2016, to reject Qunaybi’s original sentence, but in May it was decided that his original sentence should be reduced to the time he had already served. The fact that Qunaybi was not simply found “not guilty” annoyed his lawyer, but – in any case – on 17 May 2016, Qunaybi was released. Given the flimsy evidence against him, one might wonder why the regime decided to arrest him in the first place. The reason, quite simply, seems to be that the regime periodically wants to show people such as Qunaybi – i.e., people with radical ideas who do not pose a threat to the regime themselves – that they are being watched and that they must not overstep certain undefined boundaries or they will be arrested. Whether this “reminder” to Qunaybi to be careful and watch his words has actually worked remains to be seen: almost immediately after being released, Qunaybi was posting things on Facebook again.


It is still too early to predict the collapse of the Islamic State, but it is telling that the group’s own media, which usually keep to a narrative of unstoppable progress and battlefield success, have begun signaling decline. Last week, an editorial in the most recent issue of the Islamic State’s weekly Arabic newsletter, al-Naba’ (“News”), well captured this new outlook. Titled “The Crusaders’ Illusions in the Age of the Caliphate,” it offers a grim view of the future, both for the Islamic State and for those seeking to destroy it. I provide a full translation below.

Much of the editorial echoes the downbeat sentiments expressed by the Islamic State’s official spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani, in his recent audio statement of May 21 of this year. While in that statement ‘Adnani was sure to project a measure of confidence, remarking that the Islamic State is “becoming stronger with each passing day,” some of his comments betrayed the starker reality of a caliphate under siege. This was clear in the following queries: “Do you think, America, that victory will come by killing one or more leaders?” “Do you reckon, America, that defeat is the loss of a city or the loss of territory?” Responding to his own questions, ‘Adnani declared that killing the Islamic State’s leaders would not defeat the greater “adversary”—the group itself—and that taking its land would not eliminate its “will” to fight. Even if the Islamic State were to lose all its territories, he said, it could still go back to the way it was “at the beginning,” when it was “in the desert without cities and without territory.” The allusion here is to the experience of the Islamic State of Iraq, which between 2006 and 2012 held no significant territory despite its claim to statehood. For this reason it was derided as a “paper state.” ‘Adnani is thus suggesting that even if defeated the Islamic State could take refuge in the desert, rebuild, and return anew.

The editorial in al-Naba’ emphasizes the same themes. Like ‘Adnani’s speech, it suggests that the Islamic State could soon degenerate into a paper caliphate bereft of its land and leadership. And yet, it adds, this is no matter, for the cycle of Islamic State decline and revival will simply recur. America’s victory will once again prove illusory. If America seeks to claim real victory, it will have to eliminate an “entire generation” of caliphate supporters the world over.

These prognostications offer a striking contrast with those of the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, from just two years ago. Back then, in an audio address commemorating the start of the holy month of Ramadan, Baghdadi proclaimed the dawn of “a new age,” telling his supporters to “rejoice, take heart, and hold your heads high.” Today, it is Ramadan again, but the once proud and tall Baghdadi is nowhere to be seen. His last audio address was in December 2015. It has been left to ‘Adnani and the editorial team at al-Naba’ to deliver the bad news. The message of these sources could be summed up in the phrase, “brace yourselves for a long and difficult ride.” There remains, however, a hopeful sense that Baghdadi’s “new age” will endure—an age in which the caliphate may rise and fall, but will never truly be erased.

“The Crusaders’ Illusions in the Age of the Caliphate”

The warriors of jihad did not lie against God or against the Muslims when they announced the establishment of the Islamic State. Nor did they lie when they said it would remain, God willing. And they did not lie against God or against the Muslims when they announced the return of the caliphate and chose an imam [viz., caliph] for the Muslims, as they did not lie when they said it would remain, God willing.

The crusaders and their apostates clients are under the illusion that, by expanding the scope of their military campaign to include, in addition to the provinces of Iraq and Sham, the provinces of Khurasan, the Sinai, and West Africa, as well as the Libyan provinces, they will be able to eliminate all of the Islamic State’s provinces at once, such that it will be completely wiped out and no trace of it will be left. In this they are neglecting an important fact, which is that the whole world after the announcement of the caliphate’s return has changed from how it was before its return, and that by building plans and developing strategies in view of a previous reality, they are making plans for a world that no longer exists at present, and will not exist in the future, God willing.

Just as the Iraq war before exposed the truth of the power of the world-dominating crusaders, demonstrating the possibility of defeating them and showing Muslims that jihad is the only way to establish the state and implement the sharia, so the establishment of the Islamic State revealed to them that the return of the caliphate is something possible without first having to adopt the enfeebling ideas developed by factions and parties claiming to be Islamic, which parties with their ideas sowed hopelessness in Muslims’ hearts about the possibility of establishing the religion before the appearance of the Mahdi and the descent of Jesus, on whom be peace.

Therefore, the polytheists everywhere ought to be sure that the caliphate will remain, God willing, and that they will not be able to eliminate it by destroying one of its cities or besieging another of them, or by killing a soldier, an emir, or an imam—we ask God to protect them all and maintain them as a thorn in the eyes of the polytheists and apostates. For the Muslims after today will not accept to live without an imam guiding them upon the prophetic path: an imam around whom they can gather, behind whom they can wage jihad, to whom they can deliver a fifth of the booty and pay the zakat tax, following thereby the practice of the companions, may God be pleased with them, whom the death of the Prophet, may God bless and save him, did not prevent from choosing for themselves someone to succeed him in establishing the religion and implementing the sharia.

They ought to know that after today they will not be able to deceive the Muslims with idolatrous regimes ascribing sharia qualities to themselves, or with wayward parties and organizations claiming to raise the banner of Islam, while these adopt the pagan beliefs of democracy, patriotism, and others, and make war on those who call to God’s pure oneness and seek to unite the community of Muslims.

The State of the Caliphate has shown all mankind what the true Islamic state is like, how the sharia is applied in full and not in part, how polytheism is destroyed from the earth in which God establishes the monotheists, and how “the religion is God’s entirely” (Q. 8:39). It has thus done away with all the myths of popular support, all the lies of gradualism, and all the fears of the revenge of the crusaders.

They ought to be sure that their terrorizing of Muslims will no longer be effective, that their scaring them from establishing the religion will no longer be effective either, and that the jihad warriors have rejected the argument of the unbelievers when they said, “If we follow the guidance that is with you [O Muhammad], we will be snatched away from our land” (Q. 28:57), as they have rejected their fear of those other than God and their dread of them. What their actions have begun to say is: “We will follow the guidance, establish the religion, compel the community, and fight for this till our heads are cracked open and our limbs are torn apart. Then we will meet God, having been deprived of excuse.” There is no greater evidence of this than the pledges of allegiance, one after the other, to the Commander of the Believers, in spite of the vicious crusader campaign against the Islamic State and its soldiers, to which thousands of jihad warriors have rushed from east and west to throw themselves into the furnace of this war, preferring death under the banner of the community to life in the shadow of the ignorance of factions and parties.

They ought to reevaluate and redesign their plans on this basis. If they want to achieve true victory—and they will not, God willing—then they will have to wait a long while: till an entire generation of Muslims that was witness to the establishment of the Islamic State and the return of the caliphate, and that followed the story of its standing firm against all the nations of unbelief, is wiped out—a generation that knew God’s oneness and saw its adherents, that learned how to make of the doctrine of association and dissociation a lived reality, and how to make of the Qur’an, the Prophet’s practice, and adherence to the ancestors a path of life.

They will have to wait till this entire generation is over to reproduce the generation that was raised at the hands of idolatrous rulers, that grew up under the care of wayward parties and at the hands of evil shaykhs and palace scholars. For the generation that has lived in the shadow of the caliphate, or has lived during its great battles, will be able—God willing—to keep its banner aloft, as was the generation that grew up in the shadow of the Islamic State of Iraq able to bring it back in a stronger form than before, after the crusaders and their clients thought that it had been eliminated and that its trace had vanished from the earth.

The Islamic State will remain, God willing, and the caliphate will remain, God willing, upon the prophetic method, “till there is no persecution [viz., polytheism] and the religion is God’s entirely” (Q. 8:39).