Al-Qa’ida Revisions: The Five Letters of Sayf al-‘Adl

The jihadi forums have seen some rather heated and confused debate over the past several months after the publication online of a series of writings from senior leaders of the pre-9/11 al-Qa’ida organization whom we’ve not heard from in years, and which are bringing back into the open serious disagreements over strategy and ideology that had divided al-Qa’ida prior to the 9/11 attacks. The online imbroglio over this growing al-Qa’ida revisions literature – even the existence of the literature itself – has, to my knowledge, escaped the notice of Western audiences. My aim here is to draw attention to this new “crack in the foundation” of the movement, focusing on the most recent salvo: five letters written, under a pseudonym, by Sayf al-‘Adl (also spelled Saif al-Adel), the second-in-command of al-Qa’ida’s historical leadership. These letters are the latest addition to a significant recent body of work by al-Qa’ida figures that

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The Forgotten Recantation

‘Abbud al-Zumar, one-time military intelligence colonel in the Egyptian army who was implicated in the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat, has recently released a co-authored document with his cousin and brother-in-law Tariq from prison. The document, al-Badil al-Thalith bayna al-Istibdad wa-al-Istislam (The Third Alternative between Despotism and Surrender) was published by the Egyptian newspaper al-Shuruq in late August and early September 2009 (the document was also published in al-Masriyyun and can also be found on the discussion forum of the Egyptian Islamic Group website – click here for a collated PDF printout). The text has received surprisingly little media coverage so far. This is curious, not least considering the importance of ‘Abbud al-Zumar to the legacy of the Egyptian al-Jama‘a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group). According to Muntasir al-Zayyat (one-time activist in al-Jama‘a and now a lawyer who specializes in defending Islamist activists – see his website), ‘Abbud was the military strategist of

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Revisions or Just a Change of Heart?

Islam Online, an Islamic website founded by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, recently published an article called “Jihadist Revisions or Changing Their Minds” by Jordanian writer Yasir al-Za’aterah. It argued that revisionists (see here, here, and here) may have shifted their positions on violence, but they have not changed their fundamental political views. Al-Za’aterah stated that the revisionists are basing their new approach on “religious legitimacy,” which is what they used to justify their violence in the past. He maintained that the issue of forcibly expelling an unjust leader who claims to be a Muslim is contentious in Islamic jurisprudence because it often involves many “mistakes”, making it closer to what scholars consider fitna or civil unrest, which is why many refuse to condone force against a Muslim ruler. Al-Za’aterah concluded that modern Islamic movements have not rejected armed insurrection because they consider violence non-permissible; rather, they have rejected it because such action

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Fizazi Letter Published

Der Spiegel has just published a full version of Fizazi’s letter, as well as a good article by Yasin Musharbash and Andreas Ulrich. Upon reading the letter it seems to me that Fizazi is speaking primarily about terrorism in Germany and by extension about terrorism in Europe. His statements do not amount to a renunciation of violence, but to a moderation of his previous views regarding where and against whom violence can be used. By saying that Germany is not a legitimate area of operation, he is implicitly rejecting al-Qaida’s global jihad doctrine. Unfortunately Fizazi does not elaborate on his views on violence elsewhere. I am speculating, but I suspect he still views attacks on Western targets in Afghanistan and Iraq as legitimate, not to mention the jihad in Palestine. It is not clear what he might think about attacks in the US or attacks on Arab regime targets. While

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Fizazi Joining Recantation Club?

Der Spiegel reports that the imprisoned Moroccan scholar Muhammad Fizazi has issued a letter to Muslims in Germany declaring Germany “not a battle zone”. The letter, which was allegedly issued on 21 July, has not yet been made public. Without knowing the precise content, it is difficult to assess its importance. We don’t know whether he is discouraging operations in Germany only, in Europe more broadly, or renouncing violence altogether. But Fizazi is one of the most influential ideologues in the European/North African jihadi sphere, so this could be quite significant. Of course, all the caveats of recantations from prison apply. Moreover, as I have said before, no individual recantation is going to end jihadism, but a critical mass of such declarations will have an influence. In any case, Berlin must be relieved. After the latest barrage of anti-German al-Qaida statements, here is finally a jihadi with nice things to

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A First Look at the LIFG Revisions

(Editor’s note: This piece is a sneak preview of our second guest blogger: Vahid Brown from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He will not start writing regularly until October, and I will present him more formally then, but he has already written this important piece, which for obvious reasons cannot wait.) I have just looked at the first three installments of the LIFG Revisions posted to the internet, and though these initial releases amount to less than ten percent of the work, we can already see that this is a very sweeping repudiation not just of salafi jihadism but of all forms of revolutionary Islamism in general. The text is remarkably broad in its scope, and strikes me as a 21st-century Sahwist renewal of the 1970s-era Muslim Brotherhood rejection of Qutbist Islamism. Indeed, the phrase in the last sentence of the excerpt below, about the authors being “preachers

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Libyan Jihad Revisions

There is a very significant development taking place in the so-called war of ideas. Senior leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who recently laid down their arms, are publishing a Dr. Fadl-like treatise revising their previous understanding of jihad. The text, entitled “the Book of Correctional Studies” (kitab al-dirasat al-tashihiyya), is being published as a nine-part series on the website www.oealibya.com. You can find the first three chapters here, here and here. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to look at it in detail, but Jarret Brachman will be covering the story. He already has some interesting background info and analysis. The text in itself is probably not a landmark work of Islamic jurisprudence, but it is important because it adds to what may now be called a corpus of treatises by former militants challenging al-Qaida on theological grounds. The trend started with al-Gamaa al-Islamiya in Egypt, continued

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