The Islamic State (IS) released the 169th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on 14 February 2019. Al-Naba 169 leads with the attack on the governor of Borno in Nigeria by IS’s branch in that country. In terms of volume, much of the focus remains on the guerrilla campaign in Iraq and Syria, though there is an item on the last stand of the caliphate in Baghuz, the final village in eastern Syria. IS highlights its clashes with al-Qaeda in Yemen. There is a profile of a Russian-speaking atheist-turned-jihadist who was killed in Egypt. And perhaps most notable is an essay on Saudi Arabia, where IS has a terrorist infrastructure that is instructed to be patient. It is a question that likely is unanswerable until it is too late how strong IS is in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Naba 169 leads on its front page (see above) with the attack by the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) on 13 February that nearly killed the governor of Borno Province in Nigeria. ISWAP attacked the convoy of Gov. Kashim Shettima between Gamboru and Dikwa and killed “dozens” of the state’s soldiers, according to Al-Naba. The Borno story continues on page five. The Islamic State claims its muwahideen (monotheists) killed forty-two of the Nigerian government’s soldiers and destroyed ten vehicles. The locational details appear to be correct, but, by the currently-available information, Al-Naba has—as with the original claim by Amaq—grossly exaggerated the casualties. [UPDATE: later information suggests that IS’s casualty figures were correct.]
The lead article this week (on page three, as ever), entitled, “They Struggled to Introduce the Worshippers to the Religion of God Almighty”, laments that “the love of this world (al-dunya) and the hatred of death” has dragged the umma (Islamic community) toward infidelity and humiliation, helped along by “evil scholars and advocates of sedition (fitna)”. Such conditions are leading to the re-embrace of the taghuti dictatorships. The rest of page three is short articles on the military operations—primarily assassinations—against the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) in eastern Syria, and against the Egyptian state in the Sinai.
Page four documents the last week of the fight for Baghuz, the final village held by IS in eastern Syria. IS claims to have killed and wounded a number of PKK operatives and to have destroyed many vehicles. Three suicide bombers expended in this fight are named: Abu Shamil al-Muhajir, Abu Muhammad al-Qurayshi, and Abu Uthman al-Uzbeki. The lower half of the page documents IS’s operations against the tribal figures around Shirqat, south of Mosul, who have been resisting them, and against the Shi’a militias of al-Hashd al-Shabi around Tal Afar.
Most of page five is the Borno story, with a section on attacks against the Hashd in Anbar, including a gruesome picture of a beheading, and an interesting brief notice from Yemen, highlighting clashes with al-Qaeda (in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP). Al-Naba says that “soldiers of the caliphate” struck against AQAP in Qiva on 8 February and then again in Zaaj on 13 February, causing injuries. IS says it also repelled an AQAP offensive in Zaaj.
IS boasts on page six of striking down an official of “al-kawmeenat”, the village communes of the SDF/PKK Rojava regime, outside his home on 9 February. Another Rojava official was killed with a silenced weapon in the centre of Raqqa on 12 February, according to IS, and various PKK patrols have been targeted, after their routines have been spied upon and mapped out, with roadside bombs, killing several militiamen.
The other section on page six notes assassinations and guerrilla operations across central Iraq, from Samarra to Wilayat Shamal Baghdad (North Baghdad Province), plus the killing of a “spy” in Afghanistan and a finance official in the Somali government, who was cut down in the town of Baldwin in the Hiran gobol. Page seven is more extended descriptions of operations in two key insurgent zones for IS: Kirkuk and Diyala.Abd al-Malik al-Dagestani or Abu Muhammad, a jihadist from the Russian republic of Dagestan who joined IS in Sinai, is profiled on page eight. From an atheist family, Abd al-Malik joined the jihadists five years ago, Al-Naba says. He originally fought in the Caucasus until migrating to Egypt, where he was “martyred”.
Page nine is an ideological essay, “Don’t Tread/Follow in the Steps of Satan”.
The weekly news round-up on page eleven includes: the lack of an agreement between Turkey and Russia in Sochi; Abdelfattah al-Sisi extending his rule in Egypt; Khalifa Hiftar’s forces seizing the Sharara oil field, the largest in Libya; the publication of the report after the Munich Security Conference and the increasing fractures between the leading components (the E.U. and U.S.) of the nizam alamee libralee (roughly: “liberal international order”); and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warning of a coming economic “storm”.
The Main Adversary
Probably the most notable part of Al-Naba 169 is an essay on page ten, “In the Footsteps of the Ba’thists” (Ala Khata al-Ba’thiyeen), which focuses on the Islamic State’s position in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Kingdom is said by Al-Naba to have strayed from the pure path laid down by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and his Salafi doctrine. The essay notes that the First Saudi State was crushed from the outside by the Ottoman Turks, more precisely their nominal Egyptian dependency Muhammad Ali. Ali’s was a modernising regime despised by the Saudi-Wahhabi emirate that IS claims some lineage from. IS presents the current (Third) Saudi State as having been corrupted from within, with Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) putting the finishing touches to secularising and Westernising the country.
Beneath the subheading, “In the Footsteps of Stalin”, Al-Naba writes that the “circumstances of this idiot [i.e. MBS] and his predecessors remind us of the cases of the criminals of the Ba’th Party in the Levant”, since all agreed on a policy “to spread infidelity and atheism in the land” (ala nashr al-kufr wal-ilhad fi al-ard), replacing the shari’a with their “socialist religion”.
As Al-Naba notes, all of the former Marxist systems—from the Soviet Union to Mao’s China—presented themselves as being socialists working towards Communism, and the cost in blood was never an issue as they implemented their “clumsy ideas”. There were no half-measures; faith was mocked in the media and its manifestations were crushed, down to tearing the veils from women and destroying mosques. Al-Naba then alludes to Hafez al-Asad and the Hama massacre.
Clearly intending to tie MBS to the Communists and the House of Asad, Al-Naba says MBS is trying to follow a path of brutality—along with money—to suppress not only al-muwahideen but all forms of opposition in Arabia. The Crown Prince wants to consolidate a “rule of violent Stalinist terrorism”.
In the circumstances, says Al-Naba, with the mass-arrests, the suffocating internal conditions, and the pressure on MBS from outside to work against the Islamists—with the “Crusaders” always on standby to step in if his regime looks in danger—the IS cells in Saudi Arabia should avoid doing anything rash that will trigger an even harsher crackdown on the jihadists.
“[B]e careful to conserve the religion of the Muslims and their blood”, says Al-Naba, which concludes by urging IS in Saudi Arabia to “learn the lessons of their brothers in Iraq, Syria, and the other wilayat”, to focus on breaking open the prisons, to listen to their imams and emirs, and not to get ahead of these leaders, in word or deed, lest IS on the Peninsula be dragged down to the same fate as IS at the ‘Centre’.
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 The Islamic State’s Nigerian branch grew out of an organisation called Jamaat Ahl al-Sunna li-Da’wa wal-Jihad (The Group of Sunna People for Proselytism and Jihad), established in 2002, which became known internationally as “Boko Haram”. Abubakar Shekau took over the leadership of the group in July 2009 after its former leader and founder, Mohammed Yusuf, staged an uprising across north-east Nigeria, during which he was killed by security forces. Shekau pledged allegiance (bay’a) to IS’s leader, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), in March 2015.
On 2 August 2016, in Al-Naba 41 (pp. 8-9), IS announced that Shekau had been replaced by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, Yusuf’s son. Al-Naba 41 had an interview with Al-Barnawi. Al-Barnawi denounced the “Crusader media” for the “Boko Haram” moniker, saying the name was only known to the Hausa people and was a way of Western sympathisers away from joining the movement. Al-Barnawi was quite candid, when asked about ISWAP’s progress, that his forces have been routed in some areas and are having to work to get them back. But, Al-Barnawi adds, echoing IS’s spokesman Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani), “we say to them that this is not a [true] victory, and that defeat is surrender and the loss of will, and we … believe it is an ordeal (bala) to purify the ranks, and God willing, we will emerge tougher and more powerful”. Al-Barnawi was also careful to deny that IS targets masses of civilians, at mosques or in markets, unsurprising since it was Shekau’s over-fondness for takfir (excommunication) that led to the schism with IS “Central”.
Shekau rejected IS’s order replacing him as leader of ISWAP, though as Jason Warner and Charlotte Hulme noted in an article for CTC Sentinel over the summer, “no evidence exists that Shekau has ever fully renounced his affiliation with the Islamic State”. On the current state of affairs with the jihadists in Nigeria, the authors concluded: “[T]oday, ISWAP is led by Barnawi and operates primarily in the Lake Chad Basin region. Shekau, whose group operates alternatively under the international name of Boko Haram or the local name Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad (JAS) but is also sometimes referred to as a second branch of ISWAP, operates near the Sambisa Forest further south. … [T]he U.S. Department of Defense [estimated] in April 2018 … the membership of the Barnawi faction at 3,500 [men].” Shekau’s faction is said to have about 1,500 fighters.