The 252nd edition of Al-Naba, the weekly newsletter of the Islamic State (IS), was released on 17 September.
Al-Naba 252 contained reports of guerrilla attacks and targeted assassinations at the Centre—against Iraqi security forces and the Iranian proxy militias in the Hashd al-Shabi in Iraq, and against the SDF/PKK in eastern Syria—and the “West African State”, Chad and Niger specifically. IS has been making the Maghreb a primary front since the caliphate collapsed. There was, as ever, the ideological essay on page eleven (of twelve).
The two most notable aspects of Al-Naba 252—expanded on below—were the devotion of the main editorial on page three to an attack on the Taliban for the deal they have made with the Americans over Afghanistan, and IS finally claiming responsibility for the murder of the French aid workers in Niger on 9 August, while continuing its ideological war with Al-Qaeda in Africa.
Islamic State Operations in the Af-Pak Zone
Al-Naba 252 documents on page eight that “soldiers of the caliphate” in the “Khorasan Province” killed a member of the Afghan security forces in a targeted assassination in Jalalabad on 13 September, “shooting him with a pistol and killing him on the spot”, and in the same city, on 15 September, an Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK) improvised explosive device (IED) against a vehicle killed four members of the security forces and wounded a fifth. Al-Naba reminds readers that last week ISK assassinated a fighter from the “apostate Taliban militia” in Jamatala, a village in the Khogyani District of the ISK stronghold province of Nangarhar.
Also on page eight, labelled as “Pakistan State” (Wilayat Bakistan), IS records shooting dead a Shi’a man in Peshawar on 11 September; no further details are given, though it seems he was a civilian, since Al-Naba tends specify when security forces are targeted, as it does in the next paragraph when claiming that, on 12 September, IS attacked a Pakistan Army headquarters in Warah Mamond, killing and wounding a number of them. The “last week” section for Pakistan reiterates IS capturing a member of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Bajaur area of Peshawar and murdering him.
In June, Al-Naba gave considerable space to an IS attack on a Sikh temple in Afghanistan and at the beginning of August the newsletter was devoted to a massive jailbreak in southern Afghanistan that was, said IS, part of a broader campaign to free its members from prison.
How the Islamic State Sees “Peace” in Afghanistan
The editorial on page three is entitled, “Resolving the Dialectic of the ‘Near Enemy’ and the ‘Far Enemy’!” The gist of the article is that the Taliban has been co-opted by the United States, and that this is a pattern across Islamdom, where the distinction between government and opposition is relatively meaningless since they are all committed to the Western-dominated regional order and it is therefore no accident (as the comrades used to say) that all of these disparate contenders are finding a common enemy in the Islamic State, the one true revolutionary option.
There were those who said that the scene of Taliban lead negotiator Mullah Abd al-Ghani Baradar stood by the side of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a victory for Islam, Al-Naba began. This was “the Crusaders forced to stand next to those they were fighting [to eliminate] yesterday, according to this claim”. But this is a “distorted picture of reality … The two parties did not stand in that scene as enemies; the enmity between them ended with the signing of the peace agreement [in February]. The Taliban leader was in fact standing in front of one whom he saw as a ‘peace broker’ to facilitate negotiations with the apostate government [in Kabul]”, and the Americans see in the Taliban a “negotiating partner”. “Here is the crux of the problem!” Al-Naba announces.
“The ‘Taliban’ militia has declared since the beginning of the Crusade against Khorasan that its war was not with the puppet government and its peace would not be with it. Rather, its war was against the Crusader alliance [i.e. NATO] and its negotiations will only be with them”, Al-Naba notes, and in this framework the Taliban’s declared aim was to deal with the Western forces, expel them, and this “will lead to the downfall of their apostate followers. This is entirely absent from today’s calculations. Today, the Crusaders have made the ‘success’ of the negotiations between the ‘Taliban’ and ‘the government’ a condition for their final withdrawal from the country, a delayed promise that the Crusaders will often not fulfil.”
The Americans have essentially left the field of combat in Afghanistan and become a mediator to rivals fighting over the spoils of the Afghan state, says Al-Naba. America “appears eager to end a conflict in which it is not a party, and both sides [the Taliban and Kabul] are seeking its approval to pressure the other”. Meanwhile, says Al-Naba, “the demands of the ‘Taliban’ militia have been dwarfed—from a return to the Islamic rule that they imposed two decades ago, to a mere demand for in the government”, settling for the Pashtun “national share” in a country carved up by race with the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and others. While “most of [these factions] claim to want an ‘Islamic regime’ and to be negotiating to define its format”, the reality is otherwise.
As a matter of sheer fact, the idea that the Taliban has lowered its demands is blatantly untrue. The Taliban has said over and over and over and over again that it will settle for nothing less than the restoration of its theocracy, and uses violence daily to advance that goal—with no interruption, indeed with considerable acceleration, since the “deal” was signed with the Americans in February.
“This is not the first time enemies have been transformed into ‘peace mediators’ or even ‘allies’ in the jihad theatres, and it will not be the last”, says Al-Naba. In Iraq, the Americans created the Awakening forces by drawing the more nationalist Islamist insurgents away from the Islamic State, then proposed to mediate between these Sunni militias and the Shi’a-led government (that was heavily infiltrated by Iran), only to leave the Awakening to be destroyed by Baghdad and Iran’s agents. In Syria, the “Awakening councils” (i.e. rebels) had hoped that America and even Russia would mediate for them with the regime of Bashar al-Asad; both betrayed them and there have been foredoomed hopes that “apostate” Turkey will rescue the rebel position. “We see this also in Libya”, Al-Naba goes on, “where Russia is mediating between the two teams of apostates, [the one] governing Tripoli and [the other governing] Benghazi, on condition that it obtains benefits from both parties.”
“Thus”, continues Al-Naba, “the philosophies of ‘the far enemy’ (al-a’duw al-ba’eed) and ‘the near enemy’ (al-a’duw al-qareeb), with which theorists have cracked people’s heads for decades, can be consigned to oblivion, alongside other jargon and slogans that have outlived their usefulness. Let the sterile debate on the priority of fighting be ended. It is the ‘near enemy’ who kills Muslims and obstructs [the practice of] their religion on behalf of the ‘far enemy’ … and the ‘far enemy’ is the de facto ruler of the Muslim countries, since the survival of the ‘near enemy’ is impossible without [the ‘far enemy’s’] support and assistance, represented by the Crusaders, led by America.”
Al-Naba goes on: So when the “apostate parties falsely affiliated with Islam”, a reference to the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood, “end their state of hostilities with the ‘far enemy’, in exchange for accepting their transformation into a ‘peace mediator’ who oversees negotiations with the ‘near enemy’,” this is a tautology and it is little wonder they “all of them unite against the ‘common enemy’ that threatens their existence”, namely the Islamic State. It is “the prevailing opinion among the Crusaders today” that the squabble between the autocracies “and the apostate parties falsely affiliated with Islam weakened [the Crusaders’] ability to control Muslim countries” by weakening the regional states “and opened the way for the Islamic State”.
“The American tendency, therefore, is to pressure both parties to reconcile and share power via negotiations in which they or other Crusader states are the ‘peace broker’,” Al-Naba concludes. “Let the three parties join forces against their present ‘common enemy’, which is the Islamic State. Let them fight altogether in one location. We ask God Almighty to help us against them … Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.”
Spread over pages nine and ten in Al-Naba 252 is an article entitled, “Islamic State Killed Six Frenchmen in Southern Niger”. There is a grim picture accompanying the article captioned, “Crusader Subjects of France Who Were Killed by the Soldiers of the Caliphate in the Koure Region, Southeast of Niamey”, which shows two of the men still alive.
This article is the Islamic State—the former Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, now folded into the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), which split off from Boko Haram—finally claiming responsibility for the abduction and murder of six French aid workers and two Nigeriens, one driver and one guide at the giraffe reserve, on 9 August. The Frenchmen and their driver had been working for ACTED, an NGO based in Paris, and IMPACT Initiatives, based in Geneva. It is unclear why the Islamic State took nearly six weeks to claim this attack.
The article celebrates IS’s operations in the tri-border area between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and celebrates supposed gains against Al-Qaeda in the area. There are signs that IS is telling the truth about this, especially since Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) emir Abd al-Malek Drukdel (Abu Musab Abd al-Wadud) was killed in June. (IS has also shown a significant surge in Libya since the early summer.) IS also celebrates the targeted assassination of a field commander with the Salvation of Azawad Movement (SAM).
In terms of the operation against the French citizens, IS is most pleased that it caused an international stir, spread terror in a tourist district, and unnerved local and international governments that considered IS’s ability to act in that area a major security breach. Al-Naba 252 gives a brief description of this attack on the aid workers and the fallout from it, but it does not offer any very extensive justification. It is perhaps felt that this has already been done: last month, in Al-Naba 247, there was a lengthy argument in the main editorial on page three that was an immediate justification for an attack on the Red Cross in Nigeria but took on a much broader stance legitimising such attacks generally.
IS ends the article by claiming to have rooted out Western spies, particularly operating as part of SAM, and then launches a ferocious attack on Al-Qaeda, complimenting the earlier attack on its Al-Qaeda-aligned jihadi rival, the Taliban. In Africa, says Al-Naba, Al-Qaeda is following the trajectory of its Levantine branch, which had been denounced earlier in Al-Naba 252 for its attempt to preserve itself by editing its jihadi line—even formally breaking with Al-Qaeda in the case of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—and dealing with the “apostate” Turkish government. Iyad Ag Ghaly (Abu al-Fadl), a Tuareg Al-Qaeda operative, is singled out for condemnation as someone who has led good Muslims astray and into conflict with the Islamic State.
Still, Al-Naba claims that in Dhu al-Hijjah and Muharram (from mid-July to mid-September), IS in the Maghreb has killed two-hundred Al-Qaeda fighters. These clashes are then itemised, and Al-Naba claims that Al-Qaeda has been reduced to forced conscription.