The Islamic State Spokesman Directs His Fury At Regional Governments

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 April 2018

An audio statement by the official spokesman of the Islamic State (IS), Abu Hassan al-Muhajir,[1] was released today. The speech was entitled, “By their example, be guided” or “So From Their Guidance Take An Example”—drawn from Qur’an 6:30. Abu Hassan continued the themes that have been cropping up in IS messaging and propaganda for the last few months that have more firmly reoriented IS away from its foreign attacks campaign toward a more local focus in the Middle East. IS has been stressing its post-caliphate insurgency—concentrated at the present time in Iraq, but with notable operations in Syria—and its war for influence with regional rivals for Muslim loyalty, whether governments such as Egypt and particularly Saudi Arabia, or other Islamist movements like Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (HAMAS) in Gaza.

Summaries of the speech were posted by Hassan Hassan, Romain Caillet, and Séamus Malekafzali.[2]

As ever, Abu Hassan remarks on IS having been down before and revived—in his telling through the resolve of its fighters and their adherence to the correct doctrine and religious practice.

Abu Hassan stresses that IS makes no distinction in ideological terms between their various Muslim rivals—whether Sunni state authorities such as “the apostate taghut [Saudi King] Salman and his idiot son [Mohammad bin Salman]” and Egypt’s Abdelfattah al-Sisi, the Shi’a theocracy in Iran ruled by Ali Khamene’i, or other Sunni Islamists from the FATAH/PLO leader Mahmud Abbas and HAMAS to the Taliban—and “their American Crusader allies, or the Russians or the Europeans.”.

Nonetheless, though Abu Hassan opens with praise for the attacks in Paris, Britain (Westminster, London Bridge), and New York, he makes clear that those who claim the mantle of Islam for their illegitimate rule are more harmful to the faith—a point made recently in Al-Naba, IS’s weekly newsletter—and as such will be prioritised by IS.

Saudi Arabia is a particular focus of Abu Hassan’s. The IS spokesman cites Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the version of state Salafism (“Wahhabism”) practiced in the Saudi Kingdom, and his concept of the ten things that nullify Islam, and claims that most Muslims do not understand this properly. Likewise there is much attention to al-wala wal-bara (loyalty to what is Islamic and disavowal of disbelief and disbelievers), and Abu Hassan relies for the legitimacy of this concept on the ulema (clerics) of al-da’wa al-Najdiyya, the Najdi preaching, referring to the heartland of Wahhabism.

The attempt is to appropriate the Saudi regime’s theological underpinnings is an effort to simultaneously ground IS’s ideology in a more mainstream current of Islam, and to present the group as in possession of the correct version of the faith amidst a sea of corruption and misunderstanding. For wavering extremists, this posture is a particularly effective recruitment strategy.

Abu Hassan mocks the United States for its “half measures” and inability even to keep its own allies on board—a reference to the mess the U.S. has gotten itself into in northern and eastern Syria between NATO ally Turkey and the anti-IS partner YPG/PKK.

The speech also refers to the limited strikes launched by the U.S., Britain, and France against the Bashar al-Asad regime in the early hours of 14 April (local time), retaliation for the poison gas attack in Duma, east of Damascus, on 7 April. This is a (likely intentional) proof of how recently the speech was recorded.

Interestingly, the IS spokesman made direct mention of Duma, and the broader surrounding area of East Ghuta, the rebel pocket that was forced into surrender by Asad’s chlorine attack two weeks ago. As it happens, that enclave was ruled over by Jaysh al-Islam (JAI), one of the earliest and most fierce and successful anti-IS rebel groups in Syria. It was because of JAI that IS had no presence in that zone—despite the absurd claims of the German media channel ZDF.

Abu Hassan’s inclusion of Duma and East Ghuta in his speech was part of a concluding section in which IS claimed the mantle of defender of the Sunnis, specifically from the Iranian revolution, which he says, essentially correctly, has been enabled by the U.S.-led Coalition to replace IS in Sunni-majority zones of the Fertile Crescent. The meshing of this sectarianism with the geopolitical realities that have resulted from the botched anti-IS campaign has been a powerful weapon for IS in mobilising Sunni communities.

IS moved anti-Shi’ism to centre stage in the jihadi-Salafi world and Abu Hassan remains true to that, with his peroration including extensive threats of “revenge” against Shi’is. Abu Hassan calls for attacks against “every pillar” of the Iraqi government—its military and security apparatus, the economy, and the media—and the killing of anyone aligned with it, both leadership figures like Sunni shaykhs (“every rotten and apostate tribal chief”) and clerics, and populations. Naturally, Abu Hassan licenses the murder of anybody who participates in the 12 May Iraqi election, another point of fealty to IS’s founder.[3]

Abu Hassan attacks President Trump as “confused and lost … now forced to beg and go along the wishes of your supposed adversaries,” i.e. Russia. This theme of the U.S. being subordinate to Russia in its Syria policy was one that IS’s leader Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) used in his last speech in September. (While Russia’s position in Syria is weak—and rests on an Asad regime that the Russians themselves know is in tatters—IS does have something of a point that the U.S. has allowed Moscow to overshadow it in directing events.)

“What victory are you claiming, America?” Abu Hassan asks, encouraging the U.S. to leave the region and promising to evict “the Jews” (Israel) in time, once the jihadists have abolished the borders of the Middle East.

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[1] Abu Hassan al-Muhajir’s identity remains mysterious, though Graeme Wood has speculated that one possibility is John Georgelas, a Texas-born jihadist and former resident in Egypt who also uses the name Yahya Abu Hassan.

[2] If and when IS releases a transcript of Abu Hassan’s speech, I will update this post with a reproduction of that text.

[3] Before Iraq’s first free election on 30 January 2005, IS’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), released a statement saying that those running in elections were “demi-idols” and therefore voters were “infidels” who had set up partners to God. “We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology,” al-Khalayleh said. “Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it,” and marked for death.

(Al-Khalayleh also repeated the conspiracy theory that Iran had imported four million Shi’is to Iraq whose votes would ensure the subjugation of the Sunnis. To this day, many Iraqi Sunni Arabs reject the demographic facts of the country.)


Post has been updated

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