The Islamic State (IS) released issue 273 of its weekly magazine, Al-Naba, on 11 February 2021. On pages 10 and 11 (out of 12) it contained a eulogy for Abu al-Hassan al-Adeni, who was IS’s military commander in Al-Bayda area in Yemen.
Born in 1409 hijri (August 1988 – July 1989), a resident in Khormaksar District of Aden city, Abu al-Hassan was drawn to jihadi-Salafism by following the news and publications of ISIS, as it then was, according to Al-Naba. (This would make it in the 2013-14 period.)
After the Huthis, the local manifestation of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, swept south from the capital Sanaa, which they captured in September 2014, they breached the city limits of Aden in March 2015 and this is when, according to Al-Naba, “one of his brothers called him asking him to join the caliphate soldiers in Yemen” and “Abu al-Hassan did not hesitate”. Abu al-Hassan went off to indoctrination camps with IS operatives, where they taught him (their version of) religion, including various exertions in faith, such as fasting, and gave him training in fitness and other matters. Prepared, ideologically and physically, Abu al-Hassan went to fight the Huthis in Al-Bayda, a few hours drive north-east of Aden in southern Yemen.
After some time in Hadramut and in Marib (the latter he requested), Abu al-Hassan’s competence was recognised, says Al-Naba, and he was “assigned to lead the battalion”, which gained him more experience. Al-Naba goes on: “Among the unforgettable situations during his leadership of the battalion, one of his brothers says: ‘We were sitting in the tent after eating lunch and the day was very hot, and when we got up for ablutions for afternoon prayers, we were surprised that the clothes of all the brothers—about thirty mujahideen—had been washed and left in the sun to dry. We wondered who did that! We learned later that it was the work of Abu al-Hassan …, not to mention that he often cooked for his brothers.”
These stories of humility alongside military skill and leadership are commonplace.
Abu al-Hassan was next summoned to the “explosives detachment” in Hadramut, according to Al-Naba, and he left there after a short while when an order came through from Marib for him to go there for a lengthy training course—lasting about three months. At the end of that, Abu al-Hassan went back to Bayda, to Qifa to be exact, where IS’s fighters were broken into divisions and Abu al-Hassan was given one to control, doing “well in leading his soldiers and serving his brothers” in Al-Dhara, repelling a Huthi siege.
Abu al-Hassan was moved up to be the deputy military emir of Al-Bayda, and once the emir, Abu Saleh al-Awlaqi, was killed, Abu al-Hassan got the top spot. In traditional fashion for these hagiographical accounts, Al-Naba says that Abu al-Hassan did significant damage to the mushrikeen (polytheists or idolaters), i.e. Huthis, that he led his men into battle personally with minimal concern for his own safety, and that his ruthlessness towards the unbelieving enemy was matched by “mercy and humility” in dealing with his Muslim soldiers.
Expanding on this, Al-Naba says that Abu al-Hassan made a regular tour of the rabat (frontline) positions, where he would catch food (rabbits or game birds) that he then also cooked and he would sit and eat with the men, joking with them and generally raising their spirits. If he found one of the jihadists repairing a bike, he would help him. And this is “only the tip of the iceberg … in a sea of generosity”, says Al-Naba: Abu al-Hassan was fully equal to the early leaders of Islam that IS believe are perfect, the salaf (predecessors or ancestors), in his conduct for the Islamic State.
Naturally, the next stage was for Abu al-Hassan to register his name on the list to become a “martyr”.
Abu al-Hassan was overseeing the situation in Al-Bayda when IS was cut off by the “treacherous” Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the “Yemeni apostate army”, Al-Naba says; he managed to evacuate the wounded and he attended to the ammunition supply problem personally. Al-Naba records a story where one jihadist had been assigned to fetch ammunition but had fallen asleep after being awake so long under the stress of siege. The man awoke to find the ammunition situation in order and himself covered with a blanket—by Abu al-Hassan, of course. Abu al-Hassan is supposed to have travelled a great distance across a battlefront to drag another “brother” to safety during clashed with AQAP.
Abu al-Hassan met his end after AQAP combined with the tribes to attack IS-Yemen, about three days after his troops managed to kill an AQAP emir, Abu Wafi al-Surimi, according to Al-Naba. (This is presumably in the summer of 2018.)
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The main editorial on page 3 of Al-Naba 273 was an essay on the impermissibility of delaying in imposing God’s law: IS attacks “those who refrain from establishing the religion” on the grounds that you first need to build the ideological basis by converting the population into jihadism, overcoming divisions, and having “tamkeen” (lit. empowerment, having physical control of territory) before the shari’a is implemented, a thinly-veiled attack on Al-Qaeda’s go-slow approach to building an Islamic state that relies on gaining a measure of local consent to make it durable. It’s an essay IS has written a thousand times.
The interesting thing about this one was the first example IS chose to demonstrate its case, “one of the oldest incidents of apostasy”, namely the fiasco with the golden calf, taken as evidence for IS that even when the believers are on the move, recently released from bondage and harried by Pharaoh, there is no excuse for not enforcing the Holy Law.
The parable of the golden calf appears in chapter 32 of Exodus, the second book of the Tanakh and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Moses has barely left the Israelites alone, going to retrieve the tablets with the Ten Commandments on from Mount Sinai, and the Israelites decide to build a golden calf to worship, the kind of idol they’ve just been told to set aside.
The story appears in the second book of the Qur’an, Al-Baqara, and Al-Naba quotes verse 54: “And [remember] when Musa (Moses) said to his people: ‘O my people! Verily, you have wronged yourselves by worshipping the calf. So, turn in repentance to your Creator and kill yourselves [the innocent kill the wrongdoers among you]. That is best for you in the sight of your Creator.’ Then He accepted your repentance. Truly, He is the One who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful.”
The Qur’an appears a thousand years after the Torah, and clearly the presence of this story in both is not coincidental.
Gabriel Said Reynolds in his The Qur’an and the Bible (pp. 496-7) points out that the Qur’anic version of the story, where it is a man called Samiri, rather than Aaron, who leads the people of Israel astray, the discrepancy is probably driven by some combination of (1) “a desire to protect Aaron”, elsewhere identified as a prophet, “from the sin of idolatry”, and (2) genuine confusion, either reflecting Jewish anti-Samaritan sentiment among the early Ishmaelites who wrote the Qur’an before Islam had fully formed and/or an adaptation of the Hebrew word shomer (the watchman) into Arabic as al-samiri, which probably originally referred to Aaron, who had been left to watch over the flock.
For Muslims, the explanation for this similarity is that God did indeed originally give the story to the Jews, just as he gave revelations to the Christians, but both proved unworthy custodians and corrupted their texts, a doctrine called tahrif, which was corrected by the bringing of the final revelation with the final prophet, Muhammad.