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 Jihadica.com. You can find the first Q&A here and the second here.
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.
 Letter to Shaykh Abu Musab al Zarqawi, p. 14.
 Complete letters and directives of Shaykh Usama bin Ladin, p. 771.
 Answering the questioner on matters of new issues (1/16).
 “The believer is not stung from the same hole twice” Saheeh Muslim: 2998, Saheeh al Bukhari :6133.
 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.
 Answers to the Hisbah forum, p. 14.
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.