The Islamic State (IS) released the 239th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on 18 June. Pages 9 and 10 of this twelve-page document were given over to a profile of Abu Khaled al-Hindi, the jihadist elsewhere named as Mohammad Sajid Kuthirummal who massacred twenty-five worshippers at a Sikh gurdwara or temple in Kabul three months ago, on 25 March 2020, during an hours-long siege. The details of Abu Khaled’s life—finding IS after being repelled by “nationalist” jihadist groups, fighting while injured, his obedience to IS’s leaders, and thirst for “martyrdom”—are relatively standard hagiography from IS. What is really worth noting is that such an extensive focus on him, and through him on Afghanistan, underlines the importance IS has placed on its Afghan branch, Wilayat Khorasan.
Born in Kerala in southern India, Al-Naba says that Abu Khaled saw with his own eyes the hatred of “the polytheists” (al-mushrikeen), the Hindus and Sikhs, towards Muslims, and their “aggression” against Muslims in India and Kashmir. Such sectarian persecution narratives are common within the IS cannon. Devoutly religious, Abu Khaled had been unable to find a jihadist group he agreed with, Al-Naba claims. Abu Khaled had been to Malaysia and Dubai, learning the Malay and English languages, alongside the Hindi and Malayalam he had learned at home. Abu Khaled then moved to Saudi Arabia, where he did the pilgrimage and studied the Qur’an in Mecca, while working in commerce and obviously attending mosque regularly.
“Initially, he joined a ‘local group’ (jamaat mahalaya) in his hometown, which claimed to be seeking to uphold the rights of Muslims in India, where he obtained some physical and military training, and participated with them in some attacks against the infidels”, Al-Naba says. “But he soon left when he found they were far away from monotheism (tawhid) and the Sunna,” and were instead slaves to nationalism. “When God almighty enabled the mujahideen of the Islamic State on the ground, and the Islamic caliphate was restored [in June 2014], [Abu Khaled] declared his support for it and invited other people to join and fight in its cause.”
Abu Khaled’s open advocacy for IS and its caliphate project caused him serious trouble with those around him. His family tried to stop him going down this path. Rather than listening to his relatives, however, Abu Khaled tried to convert them to IS’s version of Islam—to remove from them the suspicions of IS instilled by “the people of aberration and error/delusion” (ahl al-zaygh wal-dalal), as Al-Naba has it.
Thwarted in trying to get to Syria or Iraq, Abu Khaled went to Afghanistan and joined Wilayat Khorasan. At the time, fighting was raging in a number of areas between IS-Khorasan (ISK) and its opponents: in Wazir in the Nangarhar province, in the Ismail Khel area of Khost province, and in Tora Bora, says Al-Naba. Immediately after arriving at the training camps, Abu Khaled requested to go to the “hot fronts” (al-jabhat al-sakhanat), and he was soon granted this right.
Abu Khaled joined Katibat al-Fatah (The Battalion of Conquest) and went to the frontlines, where was injured by a mortar shell that threw a piece of shrapnel into him in the village of Zawa. By Al-Naba’s account, Abu Khaled insisted on staying on the battlefield, despite severe injury, and demanded the brothers allow him to continue fighting until he was dead. This they did not do. During his recovery, Al-Naba says Abu Khaled continued to serve the jihadists, but his emir had to station somebody in his house to prevent him leaving and fighting while injured.
Abu Khaled was injured a second time in a clash with the Taliban and helped lead an ISK detachment in breaking out of a siege by their enemies at another point, according to Al-Naba.
Al-Naba is insistent on Abu Khaled’s religious devotion, his continuation of religious practices even under bombing and disorder, and his desire to learn more about the faith. Abu Khaled was apparently particularly inspired by Abu al-Dahdah—the companion of the Prophet Muhammad, not Imad Yarkas, one of the old Syrian Muslim Brotherhood hands who fled to Spain after Hama, where he joined Al-Qaeda and conspired in the 9/11 massacre. Al-Naba stresses that Abu Khaled obeyed his emir, and encouraged others to do the same.
“Abu Khaled … was keen to obtain martyrdom”, says Al-Naba, and “registered his name early on the lists” kept by the IS emirs of those who wanted to be suicide bombers. Al-Naba claims that Abu Khaled travelled long distances several times—sometimes for days on foot—when the chance for a “martyrdom operation” came up, but it was not to be until “Abu Khaled was chosen to execute an inghimasi attack on the Hindu [sic] temple” by ISK’s leadership. By Al-Naba’s account, Abu Khaled plunged into the middle of the Sikh worshippers, killing dozens of them, then clashed with Afghan security forces as they reacted to the attack, before blowing himself up, ultimately “killing and wounding about sixty” people.
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There were a couple of other pieces in Al-Naba 139 it is worth flagging, either as interesting things in themselves or indicative of other trends.
First, West Africa. It was notable that the front page of Al-Naba was, once again, about the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), specifically its recent attacks in Nigeria—the 10 June raid into Gubio, which resulted in eighty-plus civilians being killed and ended with the whole village being burned, and the 14 June attack on Monguno, the garrison town where the United Nations is based, which killed twenty or more soldiers and burned down the U.N. humanitarian hub.
Alongside Afghanistan, IS’s presence in Africa, particularly in the Maghreb and Sahel, is the one that has been expanding the most of late—and being highlighted as expanding, most recently in Libya. The death of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) emir Abd al-Malek Drukdel (Abu Musab Abd al-Wadud) gives every appearance of assisting IS as the intra-jihadi competition in the area intensifies.
Second, Yemen. Page 3 had a piece about Yemen entitled, “Spies Are Driving The War on the Islamic State!”. (The word used for “driving”, “yaqudun”, could also be given as “leading” or “steering”—the important connotation is that the spies are guiding events, rather than, say, anything IS has done wrong.)
While Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)—“the apostate branch of the Qaeda Organization in Yemen”, as Al-Naba has it—frequently “boasts about the number of spies uncovered in its ranks and repeatedly publishes their video confessions”, where they explain their subservience to Saudi Arabia and reveal their methods of recruitment and cooperation with the “Crusaders”, recently some AQAP defectors claimed that the AQAP leadership uses the espionage issue to eliminate opponents, arresting them on spurious charges and then torturing them into “confessions” of spying for the West or the House of Saud.
IS declares itself neutral on this matter: on the one hand, IS has not seen the secret information, says Al-Naba, and on the other hand it is not important whether AQAP’s leadership is correct or these dissidents, nor whether those killed as spies really were spies, since AQAP is an apostate organisation. “We ask God Almighty to destroy them all”, Al-Naba declares. What is important, Al-Naba contends, is that those accused of espionage had been some of the primary instigators and inciters against IS, and they had taken leadership positions in AQAP, explaining—at least in part—why IS had been unable to avoid war with AQAP, despite the raging battle with the “Crusaders” in Yemen.
Some of AQAP’s leaders are not Western spies, Al-Naba allows, but they might as well be. “Also, some of the organisation’s leaders made their war against the Islamic State an offering to win favour from al-tawagheet and the Crusaders, by affirming that their war is only against the caliphate soldiers and prevents their empowerment on the ground”, Al-Naba says, “and on this basis the for many years the Crusaders and the tawagheet have sifted the apostate organisation”, killing off those AQAP leaders who do not prioritise the war with IS and sparing the others—at least until they step out of line with Western intelligence designs.
Possibly the most interesting part of the article is where Al-Naba contends that the recent demise of “the apostate Al-Qaeda emir Abu Musab Abd al-Wadud” is an example of what they are talking about. The “Crusader spies lured [him]” into a dangerous area and killed him, as well as other AQAP leaders, “on the pretext of ‘managing negotiations’.” As it happens, there is some possibility this, or something like it, is true. Likewise, the accusation from Al-Naba that AQIM receives support and money through local governments and their pro-state militias: this is self-serving, of course, but the caveat must be added that this cannot be written off entirely. In Yemen, especially during Ali Saleh’s time, the line between state and jihadists was notoriously fuzzy, and in West Africa the Algeria factor makes this point even more strongly.
Al-Naba says that Al-Qaeda has concluded that direct war with the West will only lead to killing, displacement, and the overthrow of whatever jihadi polity they create, so they have turned to trying to reach terms with the West to make some gains, and it is as part of this calculation they have devoted themselves to war with the caliphate: it allows them to avoid being bombed and opens up channels of support and funding. Those Al-Qaeda leaders who deviate from this plan are killed internally as “spies” or their location is given up to Western drones, Al-Naba goes on. IS calls on Muslims harken to IS and to understand this situation.
Third, Iraq. There are many reports of IS’s insurgent operations across Iraq, including roadside bombings and targeted assassinations, stretching from Diyala in the east to Anbar in the west, and down to around Baghdad. The strength of the jihadists’ insurgency as measured against, for example, the 2012-13 peak before the transition to statehood is debateable, but the group is clearly on the upswing.
Fourth, Syria. There is a page-7 report on two separate IED attacks on vehicles belonging to what Al-Naba not-unreasonably simply calls the PKK (usually referred to in the West as the “Syrian Democratic Forces”) and the assassination of a PKK official in “Al-Khayr” (Deir Ezzor).
The first attack, on 14 June, was a bomb against a PKK jeep in Al-Shafa in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, which allegedly wounded those in the vehicle, and a bombing the next day against a car near Ruwyshid on the Al-Kharafi Road killed one PKK operative and wounded several others. Al-Naba goes on: “In a bold operation on the same Monday [15 June], the caliphate raided the headquarters of the so-called ‘local council’ (al-majlis al-mahali) of the PKK apostates in the village of Al-Tayana … and shot the ‘leader of the council’, the apostate Skat al-Musa, killing him”.
Al-Naba concluded: “It is indicative that these operations occurred in spite of the PKK militia’s announcement of intensive security campaigns in the area, which have the direct support of the Crusader coalition forces.” Allowances made for rhetorical excess, IS is not wrong about this. Before IS had even lost its Syrian “capital”, Raqqa, it had made changes to avoid the full force of the Coalition, and has kept up a steady campaign of terror and destabilisation ever since. There have been visible signs of trouble in Deir Ezzor since late 2018, and in many ways this was built into the policy of allowing the PKK to occupy this area a year earlier. The situation on the other side of the Euphrates in Deir Ezzor, where the Asad regime is nominally in control, is even worse and IS could probably retake some of the urban areas if it was so inclined. In the deserts of the Badiya more generally and further to the south in Deraa, IS is advancing. Again, all of this was obvious from a long time ago.
Fifth, Congo. IS’s Central African Province (Wilayat Wasat Ifriqiya) has two wings, one based in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the other in northern Mozambique. Al-Naba has been reporting on attacks in both theatres. This week’s was from DRC. According to Al-Naba, IS-CAP staged two attacks near Beni on 14 June, killing an officer in one case and burning down a military barracks in the other. IS is clearly making gains in the north of the continent, and it appears to be expanding its footholds in the centre and south of Africa, too.