Abu’l-Walid is Back… with the Taliban (and not al-Qaida)

(Editor’s note: I am delighted to introduce our next guest blogger, Vahid Brown from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Vahid is a linguist and historian with deep knowledge of the history of al-Qaida and the jihadi movement. He is the author of Cracks in the Foundation and the co-author of several well-known CTC reports. Vahid and I share many research interests, so I am thrilled that he will be with us for the next month or so.)

Mustafa Hamid Abu’l-Walid al-Masri, once a senior member of al-Qa’ida, has re-emerged lately after several years of relative silence and is once again chronicling, critiquing and offering strategic guidance to the jihadi movement.  He began posting new “editions” of his voluminous early writings to a blog in 2007 and ‘08, and this July he began to add newly-written articles on the Afghan insurgency, one of which has already been covered by Leah Farrall on her blog and in the Australian.

The October issue of the Taliban monthly al-Sumud reveals that Abu’l-Walid, author of at least two of the articles in the latest issue, has taken up one of his old jihadi jobs: official Taliban propagandist and media strategist.  His recent output also leaves little doubt that Abu’l-Walid is still at odds with the al-Qa’ida senior leadership over a wide range of ideological and strategic issues, and that he has every intention of continuing to publicly air al-Qa’ida’s dirty laundry.

All of which makes the timing of Abu’l-Walid’s appearance in al-Sumud very interesting, and for two reasons. First of all, the writings that Abu’l-Walid has posted to his blog are among the most damning criticisms of al-Qa’ida in existence, and his newer articles continue to ridicule Bin Ladin; in this one from September, for instance, UBL is singled out as the spokesman of the Salafi jihadi movement, which Abu’l-Walid slams for its do-it-yourself approach to Islamic jurisprudence. That such a vociferous critic of al-Qa’ida has been given an official platform by the Taliban, in their flagship Arabic magazine, clearly sends an important signal.

Second, as documented by Farrall, Abu’l-Walid broke his operational silence, so to speak, in July, by publishing an essay giving strategic advice to the Taliban – advocating a concerted campaign to kidnap American soldiers.  Aside from a lot of rather predictable anti-ISAF propaganda, the only piece of strategic guidance in Abu’l-Walid’s two al-Sumud articles appears in the one titled “They are Killing NATO Soldiers… Are They Not?,” (al-Sumud vol. 40, pp. 40-3), where he writes, “I say again that the mujahidin need direct guidance from their political leadership to the effect that taking prisoners is of far greater importance than capturing weapons or war booty.” That Abu’l-Walid’s guidance on this issue has moved from a blog to an official Taliban organ is obviously an important – and disturbing – development.

Also interesting is that on October 2, the same day that the latest issue of al-Sumud was released online, “Hawadit,” the pseudonymous administrator of Abu’l-Walid’s blog, posted there two letters written that day to the editors of al-Jazeera and to al-Quds al-‘Arabi, respectively, taking both papers to task for relying on Leah Farrall’s aforementioned piece in the Australian in their reports on Abu’l-Walid’s pro-kidnapping essay.  Why cite a counter-terrorism security official, writing in a “Zionist” newspaper, when they could have referenced the available writings of Abu’l-Walid himself – “one of your own former correspondents,” al-Jazeera is asked.  Most interesting, though, is the one and only detail that “Hawadit” takes issue with Farrall about: her description of Abu’l-Walid as a “senior al-Qa’ida figure.”  Both letters are emphatic on this point: Abu’l-Walid is most certainly not a member of al-Qa’ida at this time.

(For background on Abu’l-Walid, see the brief biographical profile I wrote for the CTC a couple of years ago; Muhammad al-Shafi’i’s excellent series of articles on Abu’l-Walid in al-Sharq al-Awsat, including this one in English; and Sally Neighbour’s Mother of Mohammed (Melbourne University Press, 2009, and forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press), which tells the story of Rabiah Hutchinson, an Australian woman who married Abu’l-Walid in Afghanistan in 2000.)

UPDATE: Leah Farrall has provided some excellent additional analysis to this issue, here, here and here.

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4 Responses

  1. I really start thinking about the authors of Jihadica in a negative way. When most publications in the past are right, lately the postings are full with mistakes.

    For instance; the difference between Taliban and Al-Qaeda… like their still two completely different groups (which is no longer truth) and that Taliban is (or could-) a group which doesn’t agree with AQ leadership for instance…

    Why do you annalists don’t read and listnen to them at all? Both Mullah Omar and senior AQ members like Zawahiri told us MANY times: Taliban and AQ are one and there is NO difference between them…

    Yes, they use different names, and they have their personal actions and attacks, but it’s all in one course and the leadership is planning together.

    Every group in every district has Taliban members (who are NOT only from Afghanistan/Pakistan but a mixed group of all different countries) and AQ members (also from all countries). It’s not that Taliban = only Afghan’s and only interested in Afghan situation, it’s simply isn’t true. Many things prove this fact.

    People who still think Taliban is a local group, fighting for local courses, is blind. AQ and Taliban have exactly the same goals, exactly the same strategies and exactly the same point of view.

    When Mullah Omar is giving orders, both Taliban and AQ ACT. When Zawahiri or OBL is giving orders, both Taliban and AQ listen and ACT.

    Mullah Omar started the Taliban movement, but in fact is now the leader of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

    The fact that Taliban would give someone a podium to ‘attack’ AQ = b*llsh*t.

    It’s NOT a signal, it’s NOT a sign both groups are opposing forces and it’s NOT a signal that Taliban and AQ have different views… They can’t have different views.

    You should make a HUGE difference about the things they spread in the media and what is really going on. When all forces leave Afghanistan, Taliban isn’t finnished like the statement a few days ago. But they stated that (again) for other reasons. You are being fooled.

    I suggest you folks start reading the real goals and plans and look at ALL aspects from their point of view, not our ‘western’ point of view.

    Start by reading documents like the seven stages towards a Caliphate by 2020. Maybe then your start seeing the bigger picture and the real relations between all Salafiyya Jihadiyya groups.

  2. CestMoi,
    I don’t know if it is your intent to parrot jihadi propaganda, but the notion that AQ and the Taliban are in perfect harmony is both an agit-prop talking point and demonstrably false. The sources and studies linked to in my post provide abundant evidence of this fact.

  3. Vahid Brown responds to CestMoi’s rather rushed, typo-ridden and grammatically challenged — yet fundamentally cogent — assertions thusly:

    “…the notion that AQ and the Taliban are in perfect harmony is both an agit-prop talking point and demonstrably false.”

    I believe that’s called a “straw man”. While CestMoi paints a picture of unified goals and cooperation, he does not go so far as to describe AQ and the Taliban as being in “perfect harmony”. In fact, groups who cooperate may often have internal disagreements and dissensions; and this common human trait seems exacerbated all the more so with Muslims. But it doesn’t necessarily mean what Vahid Brown seems to be telegraphing between the lines here and in his “Cracked” monograph: Namely, that there is no unity among the “jihadists” and therefore they have no unifying ideology — thus one more way to undercut those who keep stubbornly pointing to the Camel in the Room, Islam. And all these dizzying myriads of data of ostensible disagreement and dissension among various “jihadist” groups catalogued and analyzed by the Jihadica taxonomists are supposed to distract us from the unifying Islam that inspires and guides them.

  4. One also wonders what Vahid Brown, apparently a Bahai who has written articles about various aspects of Bahai mysticism (e.g., “Quaternities of the Writings of the Bab
    A Study in Babi and Baha’i Symbolism”), thinks of Babi’s late doctrine of jihad:

    “He [Babi] did, in later works, abrogate Islamic law and expound his own doctrine of jihad , which allowed the waging of Holy War on any non-Babi. Denis MacEoin explains:

    ‘ ….the Haykal al-din , [is] an extremely late work which effectively represents the Bab’s final thoughts on these matters… Jihad it would seem, could be waged against any group who did not believe in the Bayan [the Bab’s crowning revelation]; the questions of unbelief, Islam, faith, dissidence, and so forth no longer apply here since the entire non-Babi world is now the “realm of unbelief.” ‘ ”

    Let us note again: “Jihad… could be waged against any group who did not believe in the Bayan…”

    Doesn’t sound that much different from orthodox jihad.

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