ji·had·ica

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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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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Abu al-Qassam: Zarqawi’s right-hand man who stayed loyal to al-Qaida

Everywhere Abu Musab al-Zarqawi went, Abu al-Qassam was with him. Even to prison. Abu al-Qassam was al-Zarqawi’s childhood friend, later his companion and finally his deputy. After spending more than 10 years in Iranian captivity, he was released in March 2015, but despite the Islamic State claiming to be the heirs of al-Zarqawi, it is now with al-Qaida that Abu al-Qassam’s loyalty lies. Originally from Ramallah, Abu al-Qassam grew up in Zarqa, just north of Jordan’s capital Amman. It was here, in one of the city’s mosques – most likely al-Hussein bin Ali Mosque – that he one day as a young man met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who eventually would become the founder of al-Qaida in Iraq, the Islamic State’s predecessor. The two would go on to become close, even family. He was born as Khalid Mustafa Khalifa al-Aruri in 1967, but it was as Abu al-Qassam or Abu Ashraf

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What we learned from Sami al-Uraydi’s testimony concerning Abu Abdullah al-Shami

Something is not right in the relationship between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and al-Qaida. On 15 October, an announcement was posted on Sami al-Uraydi’s Telegram channel. “#Soon,” it said, “the series For God, then For History,” which was described as consisting of “testimonies on the split between Jabhat al-Nusra and Tanzim al-Qaida”. 50 minutes later the first such testimony was released and the war of words between al-Qaida and HTS had begun. In the coming six days, four further testimonies from Uraydi, and another from a close accomplice, followed and all with the same objective: to delegitimise leading HTS figures, namely Abu Abdullah al-Shami and Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani. As readers of this site will know, this is not the first time that debate and controversy between HTS and al-Qaida-affiliated ideologues have disturbed the Jihadi scene. In late November last year, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi began his critique of what was then

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Abandoning al-Qaida: Tahrir al-Sham and the Concerns of Sami al-‘Uraydi

The last few weeks have seen a widening of the rift in the jihadi world between proponents and critics of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the former al-Qaida affiliate in Syria originally known as Jabhat al-Nusra. As detailed in a previous post, this dispute centers on the group’s perceived deviation from the strict principles of jihadi salafism and its alleged abandonment of al-Qaida. Leading the charge has been Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the influential jihadi scholar in Jordan who has accused it of adopting a “diluted” methodology and of cutting ties with the parent group without the express permission of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Maqdisi’s chief ideological ally in this venture has been the younger Sami al-‘Uraydi, a Jordanian ex-shari‘a official in Jabhat al-Nusra living somewhere in Syria. Unlike al-Maqdisi, al-‘Uraydi’ is a member of al-Qaida bound by a loyalty oath to Zawahiri, so naturally his critique has focused more on the purported

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Diluting Jihad: Tahrir al-Sham and the Concerns of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi

It has been widely assumed in Western capitals that the latest incarnation of Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (née Jabhat al-Nusra), remains fundamentally unchanged. It may have publicly renounced ties to al-Qaida back in July 2016 and softened its rhetoric somewhat, so the thinking goes, but it has not transformed itself in any meaningful way. It is still al-Qaida through and through. Don’t tell that, however, to Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the preeminent Jihadi-Salafi scholar living in Jordan who vehemently disputes all of the above. Indeed, the problem with this portrayal of Tahrir al-Sham is that it ignores the existence of a profound controversy in jihadi circles surrounding the nature of the group, which some argue has lost its way. According to these critics, al-Maqdisi chief among them, not only was the break with al-Qaida real as opposed to superficial, it was never actually endorsed by al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

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Zawahiri is Not the Loser People Think he is

Al-Zawahiri will never become as charismatic and authoritative as Usama bin Laden, but less can do in times of great ordeal for al-Qaida as the Islamic State briefly overtook its position as the foremost Jihadi movement. Since 2015 Al-Zawahiri has proven to be a commanding and well-respected leader after a period when even his own within al-Qaida started to doubt and criticize him. Bin Laden himself was not always immune to criticism, but the critique of al-Zawahiri was nonetheless critical for the aging leader, who had been waiting for his chance to lead the movement for more than a decade. Some of this criticism, however, is misplaced or no longer applies. Some, like the Jordanian scholar Hassan Abu Hanieh, have argued that al-Zawahiri does not control his affiliates as closely as al-Qaida Central used to. Perhaps this is true, but then again al-Qaida affiliates have always had quite some freedom

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The role of ideologues

This is the fourth Q&A of the interview series with Ahmed Al Hamdan (@a7taker), a Jihadi-Salafi analyst and author of “Methodological Difference Between ISIS and Al Qaida“. Al Hamdan was a former friend of Turki bin Ali, and a student of Shaykh Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi under whom he studied and was given Ijazah, becoming one of his official students. Also, Shaykh Abu Qatada al Filistini wrote an introduction for his book when it was published in the Arabic language. The interview series contains contains five themes in total and will all be published on Jihadica.com. You can find the first Q&A here, the second here and the third here. Tore Hamming: Part of the struggle between IS and AQ happens through ideologues either part of or sympathetic to one of the two movements. AQ has consistently been supported by major ideologues like Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada al-Filastini and Hani Siba’i, while IS

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The generational divide

This is the third Q&A of the interview series with Ahmed Al Hamdan (@a7taker), a Jihadi-Salafi analyst and author of “Methodological Difference Between ISIS and Al Qaida“. Al Hamdan was a former friend of Turki bin Ali, and a student of Shaykh Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi under whom he studied and was given Ijazah, becoming one of his official students. Also, Shaykh Abu Qatada al Filistini wrote an introduction for his book when it was published in the Arabic language. The interview series contains contains five themes in total and will all be published on Jihadica.com. You can find the first Q&A here and the second here. Tore Hamming: One of the differences between IS and AQ is the generational divide; the veteran Jihadists in the camp of AQ and the younger generation being attracted by IS. Do you think this is still the case and, as IS is loosing

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