ji·had·ica

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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Jihadi Schadenfreude Over al-Nahdah in Tunisia

On July 25, President Qays Sa‘id of Tunisia dismissed Prime Minister Hisham al-Mishishi and suspended the activities of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People by invoking emergency powers under Article 80 of the Tunisian Constitution. The rationale was an out-of-control Covid crisis, continuing economic problems, and political dysfunction within the al-Nahdah-led parliament. Some analysts in the West have called Sa‘id’s maneuver an autogolpe, while many Tunisians locally, according to polling data, have backed Sa‘id’s move. It would not be a crisis, however, if the jihadi talking heads did not weigh in. It is important to note that jihadi activity in Tunisia has been on a decline in recent years due to counterterrorism and military efforts locally against al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS), as well as the waning fortunes of foreign fighting endeavors in Iraq, Libya, and Syria as IS lost territory. Nevertheless, it is worth considering

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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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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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Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s Internal Conflict and Renewed Tensions with Hurras al-Deen

On 1 February Abu al-Yaqzan al-Masri, a senior religious official (shar‘i) representing the hardliner wing within Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), announced his defection from the group. Al-Masri’s decision came as a direct response to a recent interview with Abu Muhammed al-Julani, the amir of HTS, in which he gave his support to Turkey’s planned operations against the Kurds in northeast Syria. HTS’s rapprochement with Turkey has long been a sensitive issue causing problems both within the group and between HTS and al-Qaida-aligned figures. In a speech published on 5 February 2019, al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri reiterated his criticisms of HTS, albeit not mentioning the group explicitly. Al-Masri, who allegedly was arrested by HTS following his defection, has long been a critical voice within HTS. As recently as 30 December 2018, he said in a videotaped sermon in Idlib that Turkey’s battle against the Kurdish YPG is “between a secular army and a secular,

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Abu Qatada al-Filastini: “I am not a Jihadi, or a Salafi”

It has become a commonplace to observe that Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filastini, the two late-fifties Jordanian-Palestinian scholars, are the leading ideologues of the Jihadi Salafi movement. Following the rise of the Islamic State in 2013-2014, which both men vehemently opposed upon its caliphate declaration, the two fell out of favor with the most radical jihadis, but among those sympathetic to al-Qaida they remained profoundly influential. Living freely in Jordan after many years of periodic incarceration, they have expanded their influence over the past several years, disseminating messages and communicating with their followers via social media, primarily Telegram, on a near-daily basis. But al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada have never been the same person, and lately they have not seen eye-to-eye on many issues. Al-Maqdisi has long been the more doctrinaire scholar, promoting a strict understanding of Salafi theology that is inherently exclusionary of militant Islamists of different theological

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From Goods and Services to Counterterrorism: Local Messaging in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s Propaganda

[Editor’s Note: Jihadica is pleased to welcome Lina Raafat and Charles Lister. Lina is a research assistant for the Extremism & Counter-Terrorism Program at the Middle East Institute. Her research focuses on militant propaganda with a particular focus on foreign fighter mobilization and logics of martyrdom. Charles is a senior fellow and the director of the Extremism & Counter-Terrorism Program at the Middle East Institute.] The fall of southwestern Syria to Bashar al-Assad’s regime marked a significant turning point in the Syrian conflict, effectively shifting attention to the northwestern province of Idlib, the last remaining opposition stronghold. Home to a wide array of armed resistance groups, including groups with former and current ties to al-Qaeda, as well as defeated opposition fighters recently exiled from elsewhere in Syria, Idlib’s dynamics are incredibly complex and warrant special consideration. As the threat of an impending regime offensive continues to develop, with both Russia and

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