The Islamic State vs. the Jewish State: How the Caliphate Views Israel

The past few weeks have witnessed a new wave of Palestinian terrorism in Israeli cities. Surprisingly, this string of violence was touched off by two attacks linked to the Islamic State. In the first attack, on March 22, four Israelis were killed and two injured when an Arab Israeli, Muhammad Abu al-Qay‘an, carried out a stabbing and ramming in the southern Israeli town of Beersheeba. The attacker had previously served a prison sentence for promoting and planning to join the Islamic State in Syria. In the second attack, on March 27, two Israeli police officers were killed and five other people injured when two Arab-Israeli gunmen, cousins Ayman Ighbariyya and Khaled Ighbariyya, opened fire in the northern Israeli city of Hadera. Early the next day, on March 28, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Hadera attack. Its A‘maq news agency released a separate report that included an image of

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Hamas and the Jihadis

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has long been a source of controversy in the world of Sunni jihadism. Especially since it participated in and won the elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, going on to form a unity government with Fatah, the dominant faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the following year, the group has generally been shunned by jihadis. Hamas’s roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, its embrace of the “polytheistic” religion of democracy, its perceived failure to rule by Islamic law in Gaza, its unholy alliance with Shiite Iran—all of this has made it unpalatable, if not anathema, to the adherents of Jihadi Salafism (al-salafiyya al-jihadiyya). The question that divides jihadis is exactly what level of condemnation is called for. Is the right approach to pronounce takfir (excommunication) on Hamas, or on certain elements of it? Is Hamas to be supported when it faces off against the

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Is Ayman al-Zawahiri Dead?

In November 2020, reports emerged on social media and in the Pakistani press that al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri had recently died of natural causes, possibly in Afghanistan. Born in 1951, the Egyptian jihadi veteran has been at the helm of al-Qaida since Osama bin Ladin’s death in the raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. During this time he has been highly visible as the face of the organization, delivering numerous audio and video addresses and offering written guidance to its members and branches. While there have been periods when he was incommunicado and his fate uncertain, never before have rumors of his demise swirled with such intensity. The release last week of a new video featuring al-Zawahiri has only reinforced those rumors, raising questions about the future of al-Qaida’s leadership and its future as an organization. The Wound of the Rohingya The new video, released on March 12, 2021

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Jihadi Reactions to the U.S.-Taliban Deal and Afghan Peace Talks

On September 12, 2020, the Taliban and the Afghan government began negotiations in Qatar over the political future of Afghanistan. In accordance with the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan,” signed by the United States and the Taliban on February 29, the negotiations are expected to produce “a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” between the warring Afghan parties, as well as an “agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.” In return for the Taliban’s participation in the negotiations and its guarantee that “Afghan soil will not be used against the security of the United States and its allies,” the United States agreed to withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan within fourteen months of the original agreement. In the world of Sunni jihadism, the U.S.-Taliban deal and the associated peace talks have elicited a range of reactions, from celebration to condemnation. This divergence of views reflects the fractured state of the

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Rehabilitating the Bin‘aliyya: al-Maqdisi and the Scholarly Remnant of the Islamic State

Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filastini, the two preeminent jihadi scholars living in Jordan, have repeatedly clashed in recent years over the proper scope and nature of Jihadi Salafism, the movement to which both helped give rise. While agreeing that the Islamic State is too extreme, they have departed over the issue of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former al-Qaida affiliate in Syria previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra. In short, al-Maqdisi has accused HTS of abandoning al-Qaida and diluting jihadi ideology, while Abu Qatada has praised HTS as the harbinger of a more practical and more inclusive jihadism. This has led to mutual recriminations. Al-Maqdisi and his allies routinely accuse Abu Qatada and his followers of “fusionism” (talfiq), that is, of attempting to fuse jihadi ideology with mainstream Islamism, including its tolerance of democracy and ideological diversity. The so-called “fusionists” (mulaffiqa), in turn, have cast al-Maqdisi and his friends

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Caliph Incognito: The Ridicule of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi

The last week of October 2019 was an eventful one in the history of the Islamic State. On October 26, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, its leader and caliph, blew himself up during a U.S. special forces raid on his compound in Idlib Province, Syria. The next day, official spokesman Abu al-Hasan al-Muhajir, a potential successor to al-Baghdadi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in nearby Aleppo Province. On October 31, the Islamic State confirmed the fatalities in an audio statement read by al-Muhajir’s replacement, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who went on to announce the appointment of a certain Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new “commander of the believers and caliph of the Muslims.” The adjective Qurashi in their names denotes descent from the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe of Quraysh, one of the traditional qualifications of being caliph. In his statement, Abu Hamza called on all Muslims to proffer the bay‘a, the traditional

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Mourning Morsi: The Death of an Islamist and Jihadi Divisions

Following the death of Mohamed Morsi, the former Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, on June 17, 2019, a contentious debate broke out in the world of Sunni jihadism over the proper reaction to his demise. The Islamic State exhibited no grief whatsoever, its Arabic weekly noting the passing of “the Egyptian apostate idol-ruler … [who] rose to power by means of polytheistic democracy and spent one year in power, [ruling] by other than what God has revealed.” For the Islamic State, Morsi’s loss was no loss at all. He was no better or worse than any other apostate ruler in the Islamic world. But for those jihadis in the orbit of al-Qaida, the matter was not so black-and-white. Some rued his loss, others objected to their doing so, and passions ran high. The debate highlights the significance and endurance of a widening ideological divide in this segment of the jihadosphere. Al-Maqdisi

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Divine Test or Divine Punishment? Explaining Islamic State Losses

Since it began losing territory in Iraq and Syria in 2016, the Islamic State’s official line for explaining its losses has been that God is subjecting the believers to a test or trial (tamhis, ibtila’). The theme was introduced in May 2016 by Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani, the Islamic State’s official spokesman until his death later that year, in an audio address recalling the struggles of the Islamic State of Iraq between 2006 and 2012. Al-‘Adnani reminded listeners of “God’s practice of testing and trying the mujahidin,” hinting that more of the same lay in store. In October 2016, an editorial in the Islamic State’s official Arabic weekly, al-Naba’, spoke similarly of God’s habit of “trying the believers with misfortune and hardship … before God’s victory will descend upon them.” In other words, so the message goes, take heart and despair not, for the divine tribulation will surely pass and the

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AQ Central
Cole Bunzel

Messages to Arabia: Al-Qaida Attacks MBS and the Saudi Monarchy

Since the early 1990s, al-Qaida has routinely vilified the Saudi royal family and its government for being un-Islamic and illegitimate, describing the monarchy and the princes as apostates who should be attacked and toppled from power. The gist of al-Qaida’s condemnation of the Saudi rulers is that they are lackeys of the West who only pretend to be Muslim and therefore need to be fought and deposed. The Saudi royals have consistently undermined Islam from within and are delivering Islam’s wealth to the West—Arabia’s vast oil and gas reserves—at well below market value. Because of this, the Saudi dynasty’s real nature has to be revealed and the Saudi state destroyed. Every al-Qaida leader has vilified the Saudis in this way, from Usama bin Ladin to his son and putative heir, Hamza. The latter, in 2016, launched a six-part audio series seeking to expose the Saudi royal family’s history of “betrayal.” Anti-Saudi

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Death of a Mufti: The Execution of the Islamic State’s Abu Ya‘qub al-Maqdisi

For the October 2018 issue of the CTC Sentinel, I wrote about the case of Abu Ya‘qub al-Maqdisi, a senior religious scholar in the Islamic State accused of treason and espionage by the group’s leadership in eastern Syria. According to Mu’assasat al-Turath al-‘Ilmi (“The Scholarly Heritage Foundation”), a dissident Islamic State media outlet, Abu Ya‘qub was arrested by the Security Department (Diwan al-Amn) back in July 2018; the next month, on August 30, 2018, the charges against him were read aloud in parts of eastern Syria controlled by the Islamic State, a stunt seen as portending his execution. Since then, two things have changed. The first is that Abu Ya‘qub, a Jordanian whose real name is Yusuf ibn Ahmad Simrin, has been killed—according to Mu’assasat al-Turath, executed. On December 4, 2018, the dissident media outlet confirmed his death at the hands of the Security Department, stating that the latter was giving the

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