ji·had·ica

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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Caliphate in Disarray: Theological Turmoil in the Islamic State

On May 31 of this year, Turki al-Bin‘ali, one of the Islamic State’s foremost religious authorities, was killed in Mayadin, Syria in an airstrike carried out by the U.S.-led coalition. Three weeks later, U.S. Central Command confirmed the death of “Turki al-Bin’ali, the self-proclaimed ‘Grand Mufti,’ or chief cleric, of ISIS.” His supporters online bemoaned his loss, circulating his “last will and testament” from June 2015, and in some cases composing commemorative poems (see here and here). The international media also took an interest in his death, CNN, for instance, reporting that “[o]ne of ISIS’ most important figures has been killed by an airstrike.” The Islamic State’s own media outlets, however, were noticeably silent on the matter. There was to be no official statement regarding the demise of the 32-year-old cleric from Bahrain, let alone any kind of eulogy. The reasons, it now seems, are clear. At the time of

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Jihadi-Salafism Makes Strange Bedfellows: On the Death of Muhammad Ibrahim Shaqra

Last month (on 17 July, to be precise), the Jordanian Jihadi-Salafi scholar Abu Qatada al-Filastini posted a brief obituary on his Facebook page about his fellow Jordanian Muhammad Ibrahim Shaqra, who had died that day. In his obituary, Abu Qatada called him “the father shaykh” and praised him for his qualities. This is not surprising, perhaps, since Shaqra had also appeared in a YouTube video in which he seemed to be quite chummy with another Jordanian Jihadi-Salafi scholar, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. When I interviewed Shaqra in his home in Amman a few years ago, he praised Abu Qatada, al-Maqdisi and the Syrian-British Jihadi-Salafi scholar Abu Basir al-Tartusi. All of this seems quite consistent. Yet when Shaqra died, his passing away was also lamented on the website of the Jordan Islamic Scholars League, a decidedly un-radical organisation of traditional scholars. This organisation praised Shaqra as having lived “a life filled with knowledge

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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 Video of Anis Amri, the Berlin Christmas market attacker

Via Telegram channels operated by IS, the Amaq Agency released a brief video featuring Anis Amri (his name is in Arabic Anis ‘Amari) pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and vowing for more revenge operations. The video is entitled “testimony of the soldier of the Islamic State who undertook the attacks in Berlin and Milano”, dated to December 23, 2016. He appears to be standing on pedestrian bridge in Berlin where he filmed himself using is cell phone and headphones. The somewhat three minute long video is a brief but firm statement that he has submitted himself under the authority of IS and the application of sharia rule by the “state”, presented often by sympathizers and propagandists as “proof” of the IS’ theological coherence and sincerity. Amri cites several theological references justifying revenge for the suffering imposed on Muslims, pledging that we shall drink from the same cup of pain,

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The increasing extremism within the Islamic State

This is the fifth 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, the third here and the fourth here. This is the fifth and final part. Tore Hamming: A recent interesting development is the dismissal of Turki al-Binali from the IS Sharia Council [still not confirmed] allegedly due to his ‘moderate’ view on the ‘excuse of ignorance’ and Takfir al-Adhir. This could

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Insights into Boko Haram’s Early Thought: Muhammad Yusuf and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi

The Nigerian jihadist movement Boko Haram has gone through a number of iterations since it emerged in the early 2000s. One major question about the group, from its early days until the present, has concerned the nature and the extent of its ties to other jihadist groups. Support from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb may have been one enabling factor in Boko Haram’s campaign of sustained guerrilla violence starting in 2010. More recently, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015, a tie that seems more rhetorical than operational, but that may contribute to flows of fighters and weapons between Nigeria, Libya, and elsewhere. I have long treated Boko Haram as a primarily homegrown movement, but there is one international connection that stands out to me from Boko Haram’s early years, before its decisive turn to jihadism in 2010. That connection is the intellectual debt that Boko

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