The Connection Between Sayyid Imam And The Mumbai Attacks

Khalil al-Anani wrote an article two days ago about the ideological connection between Sayyid Imam and the Mumbai attackers.  There are bits I disagree with, but he’s right to highlight the contribution of Sayyid Imam’s earlier works to the attackers and the contribution of his current revision to our understanding of those attacks.  A paraphrastic summary follows:

At the same time Sayyid Imam was finishing his revisions, mujahids in India carried out an operation that Imam laid the foundation for more than 20 years ago in his book, al-`Umda. Perhaps it is fitting that Imam is finishing his new book, The Denudation, just as Indian commandos ended the Mumbai tragedy.

The thread tying them together is what Imam says in his new book, describing Al Qaeda as a group of crooks and mercenaries. They are like any group that appeals to jihad for the sake of justifying their crimes. That’s what the Deccan Mujahideen did when they announced their responsibility for the Mumbai attacks.

I won’t dwell on the new book, which would require a comprehensive study. Rather, I only want to point out what it reveals regarding the reality of the Jihadis and their secrets. We are confronting a clear situation of collapse among the leaders of jihad. Imam is one of the leading theorists of the first generation of Jihadis, that generation that worked with US intelligence to free Afghanistan from the Soviets. He was one of the founders of the al-Jihad group in the late 1970s and led it from 1987 to 1993. He published two important books, one of which, it is said, Zawahiri stole and published serially in the Mujahidun magazine, which led Imam to leave the group and go to Yemen.

When Imam published his first book, some believed it was an unprecedented event and others exaggerated its importance, claiming that it would end the violence in the world. Of course that didn’t happen.

In the Document, Imam revised many of his ideas that had brought so much violence to the world. Perhaps the best thing that happened was that it opened fire on Zawahiri, and revealed many of the secrets of his Jihadi movements, especially in Imam’s interview with al-Hayat. At the time, this interview seemed more important then the revisions themselves. In it, Imam spoke very abusively about Zawahiri. Zawahiri responded with a book accusing Imam of working with Egyptian security and US intelligence to produce the book.

Imam’s latest response has come in the Denudation. In it, Imam does not just give a jurisprudential response or refute attacks on his person; he accuses Zawahiri of being a mercenary and a collaborator. His most damning charge is that Zawahiri worked for the Sudanese. Even more, he excommunicates Zawahiri because Zawahiri ignores the provisions of jihad.

Of the 11 principles that Imam describes as the beliefs of Zawahiri and his group, five of them were practiced by the Mumbai attackers:

  1. “The jurisprudence of justification.” The Mumbai group justified its attack by saying it was done to release Muslims from prison and to stop the persecution of Muslims in India.
  2. “The jurisprudence of human shields,” which justifies killing civilians in infidel countries because they are serving as shields for the government. All of those killed in Mumbai were civilians.
  3. “Excommunication and killing for nationality,” or “mass killing.” The Mumbai attackers clearly went after people based on their nationality.
  4. Violating the pact of safe passage. The attackers entered India without anyone stopping them and quickly attacked.  [This is not technically violating a pact of safe passage.  See the relevent sections in the Denudation.]
  5. Attacking the far enemy. Militants attacked Americans and Brits, according to one of them, to protest their countries’ support for India against Pakistan and thus mobilize Indian Muslims behind them.

The publication of Imam’s new book and what happened in Mumbai both push us to reconsider what has become of the “Jihadi condition” around the world and to read its new coordinates. Here are five things to consider:

  1. These are not classical Jihadi operations like those carried out throughout the 1980s in service of a just cause, like expelling an occupier or returning the rights of the country’s inhabitants. These are operations undertaken by organizations and groups of mercenaries trying to implement crosscutting political and ideological agendas.
  2. The new groups do not hesitate to distort jihad with their corrupt ideas, as Imam has said. He has pointed out a number of ways they do this and you can see them clearly underpinning their operations.
  3. The common trend in most of these organizations is that they are made up of very young boys, not over 20.
  4. Britain has become a breeding ground for the “new Jihadis,” a phenomenon that has increased steadily over the past three years. This means we need to study the relationship between these Jihadis and their home countries.
  5. The Mumbai attacks herald the end of the al-Qaeda stage and its monopoly over suicide operations around the world. This launches a new phase of “Jihadi” action, the most important features of which are the globalization of planning and training and the localization of goals and implementation.

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4 Responses

  1. Will,

    I have a couple of issues with al-Anani’s argument. First, regarding principles 1-3: one of the differences between AQC and LeT is how they address the issue of killing civilians specifically and terrorist operations in general. AQC engages in some serious theological legerdemain to justify its attacks, as you know far better than I. Nonetheless, it does attempt to justify them and goes to great pains to convince people that its operations are legitimate. LeT simply them. It has never accepted responsibility for deliberately killing civilians, though it has done so in J&K almost since its inception (often as a form of ethnic/religious cleansing) and in the Indian mainland for the better part of a decade in the form of terrorist attacks. It only takes credit for operations against Indian officials – army, police, government, etc. Thus the use of front groups, which often present justifications meant to deceive. This begs the question: can we really know how it ideologically justifies these actions? Or rather, can we judge these justifications based on statements from a group – the Deccan Mujahideen – that does not exist and was invented in order to deceive?

    Second, on a broader scale it seems to me we might be imputing a bit too much influence to al-Zawahiri here. Beyond the level of coordination, the only part of this attack that smacked of al-Qaeda Central was the targeting of the Far Enemy. I’ll submit that it a pretty big deal. But it also remains unclear whether that is evidence that LeT is really globalizing and buying into the AQC ideology, or whether it was trying to a) weaken India and b) start a war and this seemed a good way to go about it. After all, a host of previous attacks had failed to solicit a response so perhaps LeT simply felt the need to up the ante. If so, can we really ascribe this to the ideological influence of al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda?

    Unrelated note: on behalf of those of us who are slogging through the Sayyid Imam series with a dictionary in hand and finding it slow-going, thanks for the making his thinking immediately available to us.

  2. hi

    Though familiar with religious discourse in the Judeo-Christian-Greek-Pagan tradition, I’m not familiar with the term ‘jurisprudence’. Might you find some time to share your perspective of the meaning of this term in Sayyid Imam’s work?


  3. Stephen,

    If it makes you feel any better, I had my dictionary in hand too.

    As to your points, I think the best way to look at Sayyid Imam’s book, like the previous one, is as a guide to how to discredit groups like AQ and LeT in the eyes of Muslims. That’s not to say that unbelievers should be spouting silly things like, “These actions are un-Islamic because…” It’s not our place. But we can focus on those aspects of Jihadi operations that Muslims steeped in their faith find offensive. Imam helps us know what those offensive things are.

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