A Note on Usama Bin Ladin’s 1998 Declaration of War: al-Kisa’i vs. al-Kasani

[Editor’s note: I am very pleased to introduce a new guest contributor, Sayeed Rahman, a Yale PhD and a fellow with the Truman National Security Project.] A number of translations analyze and annotate Usama Bin Ladin’s 1998 statement declaring war against the United States and her allies (see here, here, here, here and here). The original Arabic source for this declaration is the February 23, 1998 edition of the London based newspaper al-Quds al-`Arabi.  After citing Qur’anic verses and hadith to support the legitimacy of his call to arms, Bin Ladin and the other signatories cite four well-known post-formative Sunni Muslim jurists to bolster their claim that jihad is an individual duty (fard al-`ayn) when Muslim countries are attacked.  Among the scholars cited is an individual named “al-Kisa’i” and his work al-Bada’i`.  The identification of this al-Kisa’i has eluded American translators.  For reasons I discuss below, I believe this individual to be the Hanafi

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Al-Qaida after Mubarak

How will the events in Egypt and Tunisia affect al-Qaida? This piece by CNN’s Paul Cruickshank is easily the best analysis so far on the matter. Although the headline expresses the optimism found elsewhere, the body of the article clearly shows that experts are divided on how al-Qaida will emerge from the ashes of Tahrir Square. Basically there are two schools of thought on the matter: the “fewer grievances” school and the “more opportunities” school – represented in Cruickshank’s piece by Osama Rushdi and Noman Benothman respectively. The former argues that democratization will stem new recruitment to al-Qaida by removing a key grievance and undermining the message that only violence can bring change. The latter argues that the unrest provides jihadis with new operational opportunities and encourages spoiler activism. Personally I lean toward the “more opportunities” school. I agree that the recent events are bad for al-Qaida in the long run, but I see the short and medium term effects as much less predictable.

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A Crash Course in Jihadi Theory (Part 4)

As we saw in the previous parts of this series, the Shari’a Council of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad in Gaza wrote a book that can be described as a “crash course” in jihadi theory. In part 1, I described how the council used the term taghut (idol, pl. tawaghit) to accuse the rulers of the Muslim world of unbelief and why they were adamantly against both democracy and secularism. In part 2, we saw that the council believes Muslim rulers should be overthrown because of their man-made legislation but that something beneficial for Muslims should replace them, with the obvious favourite being a truly Islamic imamate of course. Finally, in part 3 it became clear that, its radicalism notwithstanding, the council did not believe any sinful Muslim should simply be fought by means of jihad but that one should be careful in applying takfir (excommunication). The “infidel” rulers, though, should

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Al-Qa’ida Revisions: The Five Letters of Sayf al-‘Adl

The jihadi forums have seen some rather heated and confused debate over the past several months after the publication online of a series of writings from senior leaders of the pre-9/11 al-Qa’ida organization whom we’ve not heard from in years, and which are bringing back into the open serious disagreements over strategy and ideology that had divided al-Qa’ida prior to the 9/11 attacks. The online imbroglio over this growing al-Qa’ida revisions literature – even the existence of the literature itself – has, to my knowledge, escaped the notice of Western audiences. My aim here is to draw attention to this new “crack in the foundation” of the movement, focusing on the most recent salvo: five letters written, under a pseudonym, by Sayf al-‘Adl (also spelled Saif al-Adel), the second-in-command of al-Qa’ida’s historical leadership. These letters are the latest addition to a significant recent body of work by al-Qa’ida figures that

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Jihadi Encryption

The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating story on Monday about the encryption methods employed by radical Islamist activists. The details emerged in the ongoing UK trial of Rajib Karim. The article is a reminder that there is more to online jihadism than what we see published on radical websites.

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NYU Report on AQ and Taliban

NYU’s Center on International Cooperation has just published a new report by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn on Taliban-al-Qaida relations and implications for US policy. Few people are better informed than Alex and Felix about this topic. How many Western civilians do you know who has spent the past few years living in Qandahar?

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Jihadis Debate Egypt (3)

Two other pieces may deserve some attention. Both of them have been flagged as very important on Shumukh. Yesterday, “the Mas’adat al-Mujahidin in Palestine”, a jihadi media outlet claiming to speak on behalf of Palestinian jihadis, issued a statement on Shumukh in support of “the Brothers of Monotheism in Egypt”. It calls upon them to remain steadfast, maintain “the frontlines in all streets of Egypt”, and stresses that participation in this Uprising is a fard ‘ayn, an obligatory individual Islamic duty upon every able man. The communiqué also contains the obligatory listing of Mubarak’s evildoing. What I find most interesting in the communiqué is the emphasis on the post-revolutionary phase and the character of the new regime. This is different from Abu Mundhir al-Shanqiti’s fatwa (see my earlier post) and Abu Sa’d al-Amili’s epistle (see below). The Mas’adat al-Mujahidin communiqué stresses the need for “preserving the fruits of your jihad”, not

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Jihadis Debate Egypt (2)

Al-Qaida’s senior leadership (AQSL) is full of Egyptians, but they have yet to produce an official communiqué about events in their home country. Yesterday, a short message was published by a leading Egyptian jihadi figure. It is not from AQSL, however, but from someone we haven’t heard from for many years. The London-based Al Maqreze Center run by Hani al-Sibai has relayed a message from Thirwat Salah Shahata, a veteran of the old Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Jama’at al-Jihad bi Misr). Now nearly fifty one years old, he has been absent from the spotlight for many years. In 2005, he was reported to be under some sort of house arrest in Iran, and Al-Sharq al-Awsat’s sources claim the message was sent from Tehran. Al Maqreze, however, suggests he is now hiding in “Khurasan” (i.e. the Northern Af-Pak region). In his communiqué, Shahata speaks on behalf of the Jihad Group (EIJ), not al-Qaida.

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Jihadis Debate Egypt (1)

With Tunisia’s President Bin Ali tucked away in Jedda and the world’s attention fixated on the popular uprising in Egypt, al-Qaida may be about to lose one of its main ideological selling points: that only armed struggle can bring down the regimes in the region. Not surprisingly, the jihadi online community is captivated by the uprising, but many are also bewildered about what this means for their cause, and their leaders have been slow to respond. Jarret Brachman has a point when he taunts Zawahiri: “Your Silence is Deafening.” As of Thursday afternoon, the leading jihadi forum Shamikh only featured a handful of authoritative responses to the events in Egypt, from pro-jihadi pundits, a legal scholar and other participants. However, not a word from the leadership. The closest thing to an official response is AQIM’s statement on the events in Tunisia (available also in translation). Over the past few days, the most popular sub-forum on Shamikh,

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