ji·had·ica

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 Propaganda of Jihadist Groups in the Era of Covid-19

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, jihadist groups have been addressing and discussing the issue of Covid-19 in their propaganda, seeking to interpret it for their constituencies and exploit it for their cause. As we shall see in detail below, these groups have sought to use the pandemic as an opportunity to denigrate their enemies, spur recruitment, and inspire attacks. They have also tried to cast the pandemic as a warning from Allah to mankind, including Muslims, and in many cases have detailed strategies for preventing the virus’s spread. Jihadist messaging regarding the pandemic has not been uniform, however, as the following survey of the different groups’ propaganda will show.[1] The main difference is seen between those groups focused more on stopping the spread (e.g., the Taliban, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) and those focused more on exploiting the pandemic to stoke violence and amplify their message (e.g., the Islamic State,

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The Syrian Jihad, al-Qaida, and Salafi-Jihadism: An Interview with Muzamjir al-Sham

In early June, the much-awaited interview with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) leader Abu Muhammad al-Jolani was released by Frontline.[1] American journalist Martin Smith asked al-Jolani a number of questions ranging from the jihadi leader’s personal trajectory and relationship with al-Qaida and the Islamic State to the subsequent transformation of HTS from a group invested in global jihadism to one focused on local struggle in Syria and Idlib in particular. The interview revealed what HTS is seemingly becoming more and more every day: a third model of jihadism that is departing from Salafi-Jihadi ideology and in opposition to both al-Qaida and the Islamic State. In light of the Frontline interview, the authors decided to interview a prominent jihadi source who actively monitors the ongoing conflict between HTS and Hurras al-Din (HaD), the new Syrian al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, and the state of al-Qaida and the Salafi-Jihadi movement globally. The source, who

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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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Al-Qaeda’s Leaders Are Dying, But a Greater Challenge Looms

A string of top-level al-Qaeda leaders have been killed this year in U.S. counterterrorism operations extending from Afghanistan to Iran and Syria. The frequency of the strikes, together with the seniority of those lost, has dealt a crippling blow to the old guard responsible for founding al-Qaeda back in the 1980s. After nearly 20 years of relentless counterterrorism pressure following the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda’s central leadership has grown older, more distant and disconnected, and, it seems, increasingly vulnerable. Most prominently, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (better known as Abu Mohammed al-Masri), was reportedly killed in August by a team of elite Israeli assassins acting on U.S. intelligence in the Iranian capital of Tehran. The targeting of al-Masri, the most likely successor to overall leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, was one of the most significant operational successes against al-Qaeda since Osama Bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. That it took place in

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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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Striving for Hegemony: The HTS Crackdown on al-Qaida and Friends in Northwest Syria

Introducing Al-Muraqib: Al-Muraqib is a new author platform for Jihadica authors and guests. Contact jihadica@protonmail.com if you are interested in contributing. The first indication that something was about to happen—again—came on June 17, when Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) security officers arrested Abu Salah al-Uzbeki (Sirajuddin Mukhtarov). Abu Salah, the founder of the mainly Uzbek Katibat al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad, is a prominent Jihadi commander and ideologue who shortly before his arrest had defected from HTS and, together with approximately 40 fighters, joined Ansar al-Deen, a rival Jihadi faction sympathetic to al-Qaida. The atmosphere within the rebel landscape in Syria’s northwest was growing increasingly tense even before Abu Salah’s arrest. In a surprise move on June 12, the five groups Hurras al-Deen, Ansar al-Islam, Ansar al-Deen, Tansiqiyat al-Jihad, and Liwa al-Mouqatilin al-Ansar announced the establishment of the new operations room “So Be Steadfast” (Fa-thbutu), much to the displeasure of HTS. According to an insider,

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Living Long Enough To See Yourself Become The Villain: The Case of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi

It has become a trope within the jihadi studies field to describe Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (born ‘Isam Bin Muhammad Bin Tahir al-Barqawi) as being the most important jihadi ideologue alive. Part of this derives from a study written by Will McCants in 2006 that notes he is the most cited living jihadi ideologue within jihadi primary source literature. At the time, in many ways, al-Qaeda (AQ) was also the unipolar leader of the jihadi world. Since then, cracks in the foundation of AQ’s leading role have created alternative visions for the future of the jihadi movement. Most notable has been the case of the Islamic State (IS), but another is that of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). In attempting to bolster their legitimacy, these different currents have moved away from al-Maqdisi and even derided him. The story of al-Maqdisi’s issues with the leader of IS’s predecessor, Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi, and of

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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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