ji·had·ica

The Islamic State of Disobedience: al-Baghdadi Triumphant

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), the leading jihadi fighting force in northern Syria, is often described as “an al-Qaeda group.” Its historical ties to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda Central (AQC) notwithstanding, this characterization is unhelpful and possibly misleading. The Islamic State, in its own conception, is no ordinary jihadi group; nor is it strictly beholden to al-Qaeda as such. Describing ISIS in this way, moreover, overlooks the dramatic rupture that has set in between the Islamic State and AQC over the past several months. Today ISIS persists in a state of outright disobedience to its supposed seniors in AQC, Zawahiri among them. The following examines both the extent of this state of disobedience and the nature of the Islamic State itself that has given rise to it. Anguished forums Shumukh al-Islam, al-Qaeda’s semi-official online forum, signaled alarm last week over enduring tensions between ISIS and Jabhat

Read More »

Usama bin Laden Called Yunus Khalis “the Father Sheikh:” Weird But Possibly True

Many authors have tried to fill in the gaps in the historical account of how al-Qa’ida’s central leadership came to reside in Jalalabad for part of 1996, with mixed results. Yunus Khalis has become a fixture in these narratives largely because he was the best known person that Bin Laden interacted with in the summer after al-Qa’ida’s leadership fled Sudan for Nangarhar. For many authors, Khalis’s fame and prominence in the region combined with his known interactions with Bin Laden provide an adequate explanation: al-Qa’ida must have come to Nangarhar in 1996 because of the importance of the Khalis-Bin Laden relationship. This is, of course, a vast oversimplification, and I hope that the report I recently published for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center will go some way towards exposing the most obviously untenable parts of this narrative. But as part of the research for this monograph, I have also found

Read More »

Abbottabad Documents

The US government has released some of the documents it captured during its raid on Bin Laden’s compound. The documents have been released through West Point’s CTC, which has provided an excellent overview and hand list. Since the documents are being circulated in a .zip file, I thought it’d be useful to put them online in an easy-to-access format. Date: Unknown, From: Unknown, To: Unknown (Eng) (Ar) [SOCOM-2012-0000009] Date: Unknown, From: Unknown, To: Unknown (Eng) (Ar) [SOCOM-2012-0000017] Date: Unknown, From: Unknown (probably Bin Laden or `Atiyya), To: Nasir al-Wuhayshi (Eng) (Ar) [SOCOM-2012-0000016] Date: 14 Sept 2006, From: Unknown, To: Bin Laden (Eng) (Ar) [SOCOM-2012-0000018] Date: Between 24 Oct and 22 Nov 2006, From: `Atiyya, To: Jaysh al-Islam (Eng) (Ar) [SOCOM-2012-0000008] Date: after Jan 2007, From: Unknown, To: `Atiyya (Eng) (Ar) [SOCOM-2012-0000014] Date: 28 Mar 2007, From: Unknown (an Egyptian), To: Hafiz Sultan (Eng) (Ar) [SOCOM-2012-0000011] Date: 11 June 2009, From: `Atiyya,

Read More »

Al-Qaida Advises the Arab Spring: Egypt

The number of jihadi publications on the Arab Spring is increasing dramatically as the months go by and my time has – as always – been very limited, hence my recent absence from Jihadica. I have several posts about al-Qaida’s advice to the Arab Spring lined up, however, including this one about Egypt. Scepticism When one thinks of Egypt and jihadis, the first person that comes to mind is probably Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Qaida’s leader has issued many a “letter of hope and good tidings to our people in Egypt” since the beginning of the Arab Spring and although that title may sound as if these epistles contain Christmas greetings to the country’s Coptic community, they offer nothing of the sort. In part three of his series of letters to the Egyptian people, al-Zawahiri spends most of his time warning his countrymen about the supposedly evil intentions of the United States

Read More »

Al-Qaida advises the Arab Spring: Syria

With the Arab Spring going strong in several countries, al-Qaida (in a broad sense, so including ideologues and scholars supportive of the organisation) still finds it necessary to comment on what is happening. In a series of posts, I will deal with the advice al-Qaida is giving the people of several countries, starting with Syria. Praise One of the men “advising” the Syrians currently revolting against the regime of President al-Asad is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaida. In an epistle meant solely to greet, encourage and heap praise on the people he is addressing, al-Zawahiri spends one of the first paragraphs of his letter saying “salamun ‘alaykum” to his audience no fewer than eight times. He addresses them as “the mujahidun who command good and forbid evil”. This seems to be an attempt to claim that al-Qaida-like people are the ones trying to overthrow the Syrian regime, which is a good

Read More »

Decade of Fear

As is the case for many others, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has made me reflect on their impact over the past decade. To this end, Michelle Shephard‘s Decade of Fear has been indispensable. A very personal account of her journalistic efforts to chronicle the war on terrorism over the past decade, Michelle weaves the weft of her narrative over the warp of New York just after 9/11; Somalia after the rise of the Islamic Courts Union and, later, the emergence of al-Shabab; Pakistan after the rebound of the Taliban and al-Qaeda; and Yemen at the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the retreat of President Saleh. Michelle’s account puts a human face on the knotty legal, ethical, and political problems the United States and its allies have grappled with as they tried to stop al-Qaeda and its supporters: torture for information, overthrowing stable governments who might align with

Read More »

Al-Qaeda’s Past and Present

The newest issue of Foreign Affairs on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 includes an essay by me (free registration required) on the history of al-Qaeda and its prospects after the Arab Spring. The essay covers the reasons for al-Qaeda’s founding, its targeting of the United States, its strategic thinking under Zawahiri’s leadership, its concept of an Islamic state, and its enduring problem with Islamist parliamentary politics. Regular readers of Jihadica will find much that is familiar but the essay makes one point I have not seen elsewhere: al-Qaeda is not against democratic elections, just parliamentary politics. The misperception that it is against democratic elections arises from a general ignorance of al-Qaeda’s thought on Islamic states and statecraft, a subject I also treat in the essay. Islamic states, not the caliphate, are central to al-Qaeda’s strategic planning and its interpretation of the aftermath of the Arab Spring. I look forward to your comments.

Read More »

Reasons for the Strategic Failure of al-Qaeda in Palestine

In an essay provocatively titled, “Reasons for the Utter Strategic Failure of al-Qaeda to Threaten the Security of the Zionist Entity,” Ansar forum member Qandil al-Bahr is at pains to explain why al-Qaeda is advancing the Palestinian cause by focusing its attention in the United States: There is no doubt that al-Qaeda is incapable of undertaking a single operation in the land controlled by the Israeli enemy. The mujahids of al-Qaeda are not even able to pay for a single shot or assassinate a single Jewish person in the land of Palestine. What is the reason for this utter failure? The reality is there is no reason behind it worth mentioning other than that the premise is faulty. It is not possible to defend a faulty premise other than by first critiquing it and moderating it then base it upon reality. Qandil says he has heard this faulty premise over and over but has

Read More »

Breivik and Al-Qaeda

In his summary of a massive manifesto written by Anders Breivik, the alleged terrorist who carried out Friday’s horrible attacks in Norway, Blake Hounshell observes that although Breivik wants to purge Europe of Islam, he also deeply admires al-Qaeda.  Indeed, Breivik is inspired by the organization’s quest for cultural purity in the Middle East and wishes to do the same in Europe using similar means: “Just like Jihadi warriors are the plum tree of the Ummah, we will be the plum tree for Europe and for Christianity.”  This symmetry is also noted by Spencer Ackerman, who provides a very useful rundown of the intellectual parallels between Breivik and al-Qaeda. Breivik admires few other terrorist groups, listing al-Qaeda as one of only two successful terrorist organizations. The reason for al-Qaeda’s success, he argues, is that it made other Islamists look moderate in comparison, making it easier for them to culturally gobble up

Read More »

AQ’s Enabler

Don Rassler and Vahid Brown have written one helluva report on the Haqqani network, the folks who have been providing aid and sanctuary to AQ Central for decades. Based on thousands of pages of primary source documents–many not previously released to the public–Rassler and Brown explain how the Haqqanis did (and do) it. Still not sure you want to read it? The authors borrow network analysis tools from Renaissance Studies to show how the Haqqani network functions. C’mon.

Read More »
Latest Jihadica
Subscribe