Abbottabad Insights: How al-Qa‘ida in Iraq Was Formed (Part 2)

In the first article in this series, we saw how in 2004 al-Qa‘ida’s “general manager” Abu al-Faraj al-Libi engineered an alliance with Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi’s Iraq-based group. Acting on behalf of Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Libi met with al-Zarqawi’s emissary Abu Ja‘far al-Iraqi in mid-2004 to discuss the “reality of the situation” in Iraq and negotiate a merger. It was during this meeting that the deal was sealed between the two organizations: al-Libi told Abu Ja‘far that “the subject of the allegiance, God willing, has been completed”, leaving only technicalities to be worked out. After several months of subsequent secret messages between Pakistan and Iraq, a public communiqué released on October 17, 2004 announced that al-Zarqawi’s group was now operating under al-Qa‘ida’s umbrella. Al-Qa‘ida in Iraq was born. During these months of negotiations, al-Libi had been in charge of carrying out the talks with al-Zarqawi and his group

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Abbottabad Insights: How al-Qa‘ida in Iraq Was Formed (Part 1)

*Editor’s note: The “Abbottabad Insights” series aims at analyzing the files recovered from Usama bin Ladin’s compound in 2011 which have remained largely understudied to date, aside from the first batches released between May 2012 and January 2017. The first two articles of this series will deal with the inside story of the founding of al-Qa‘ida in Iraq, providing unique insights into the negotiation process between al-Qa‘ida Central and Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi in 2004. A third piece will tackle the relationship between Bin Ladin’s group and al-Zarqawi’s during the last months of the Jordanian’s career. Other articles covering a wide range of issues, from al-Qa‘ida’s external operations to its ties with other militant groups, will follow. On October 17, 2004, al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad, the precursor organization to the Islamic State, issued a statement announcing with much fanfare that its leader Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi had pledged “allegiance” (bay‘a) on behalf of his group “to the mujahid

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The Forgotten Caliphate

By proclaiming the re-establishment of the caliphate last June, the Islamic State has significantly stirred up the transnational jihadi landscape. Many characterized this bold claim to be a significant shift from the traditional jihadi organzations. Indeed, although striving to erect a global caliphate, al-Qa`ida and others have never pretended to be more than mere fighting groups. In contrast, the Islamic State projects itself as the sole legitimate Islamic body to which bay`a (allegiance) is due. Though this development was occasionally deemed unprecedented, taking a historical perspective puts this supposed novelty in context. Two decades ago, al-Qa`ida and the broader Arab-Afghan community were already dealing with what they regarded as hardliners with invalid caliphal credentials. While little known outside militant circles, the name of this group, Jama`at al-Muslimin (JM), left vivid memories among those who witnessed its rise and subsequent downfall. A Caliph in Training The history of JM mainly revolves

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Al-Qaeda Revives Its Beef with the Islamic State

With the formal disavowal of the Islamic State by al-Qa`ida last February, the two groups have vied with each other for leadership of the global jihad. Combining military victories with an effective use of social media, the Islamic State has been able to gain  traction among both grassroots sympathizers and militant outfits. This has led to the emergence of a number of splinter factions that left their original groups to align with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces. These defections have been witnessed not only among al-Qa`ida’s affiliates but by the al-Qa`ida mothership itself in Waziristan. In light of this relative but noteworthy reshaping, some people have raised the question of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s ability to maintain loyalty among his subsidiaries or even a future union between his group and al-Baghdadi’s. While it is too early to determine who will eventually call the shots, a telling audio message recently released by Abu Dujana al-Basha,

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Al-Qaeda’s Top Scholar

If the Bahraini jihadi ideologue Turki al-Bin`ali personifies “the caliphate’s scholar-in-arms” for the Islamic State, one would find difficult to name a similar leading figure in al-Qa`ida’s ranks. Indeed, although most of the senior jihadi scholars sided with Ayman al-Zawahiri in his conflict with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, none of them actually belong to the organization. While the senior scholars certainly have longstanding ties to both al-Qa`ida’s leaders and rank and file and have been instrumental in furthering its agenda and that of its affiliates, they all remain independent from al-Zawahiri’s command. With that said, al-Qa`ida has long strived to promote religious scholars in its ranks, such as Abu Yahya al-Libi and `Atiyyatullah al-Libi, who proved to be major influences in the militant landscape and in jihadi sympathizers’ circles. However, a sustained U.S. drone strikes campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas removed these well-known heavyweights. Over the remaining ideologues, the Palestinian Abu

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