Islamic State Comments on the Gaza War and Escalates in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 May 2021

Al-Naba 287, page three

The last two issues of Al-Naba, the weekly newsletter of the Islamic State (IS), had a number of interesting items, most obviously finally breaking its silence on the latest flare-up between Israel and HAMAS.

AL-NABA 286

Though Al-Naba is generally published on a Thursday, Al-Naba 286 was released on Saturday, 15 May. With the eruption of war in Gaza on 10 May after HAMAS began launching missiles into Israel, it was plausible to think the delay was so that IS could include commentary on that conflict, but such was not the case—or not directly.

IS’s View of the Current Situation in Syria

The main editorial in Al-Naba 286 is a condemnation of the situation in Syria (Al-Sham), where the “Nusayri regime” (Bashar al-Asad’s regime) and the PKK are dominant over most of the country, implementing their “aggression against Islam … and pursuing their clear effort to change the religion of the people”, to Shi’ism in the case of the Iranian-controlled Asad regime or “the atheism of the Communists” in the case of the PKK.

“The situation of the apostate Awakening factions in the regions of Aleppo and Idlib is not much better, despite the fact that these parties and factions falsely claim [to adhere to] Islam and raise Islamic slogans”, says Al-Naba 286. The Awakening (Sahwa) refers to the Sunni insurgents who turned on IS in Iraq during the Surge, and it is a label IS also applies to the former rebels that are now act as administrators of the Turkish-held areas of northern Syria under the banner of the “Syrian National Army” (SNA).

The SNA has given up on bringing down the Asad regime, says Al-Naba, so has instead turned to “the commercialisation of the suffering” of the displaced people deported into Idlib and other zones they control, creating “weeping and wailing campaigns” that show flooded tents in the winter and the unbearable heat in the summer to ensure a flow of funds, most of which do not go to needy people but into the warehouses of the SNA factions and the pockets of their leaders.

The Naba editorial ridicules the idea that the people in Idlib and northern Aleppo will be able to return home after peace negotiations for a political settlement—and it is here that Al-Naba 286 mentions Palestine, albeit in passing. The situation for “the displaced today in Syria reminds us of the situation of those displaced from Palestine at the hands of the Jews decades ago”, Al-Naba 286 says: Where once there had been promises to “expel the Jews and return all the land to its owners”, over time these “slogans of liberation lost their lustre”; the displaced Arabs from former Mandate Palestine “became a card in negotiating with the Jews” and “the so-called ‘right of return’ became the goal”.

The Levantine version of the “right of return”, where the displaced return to their homes in the Asad-held areas, is impossible, says Al-Naba: on the one side, the SNA factions do not want it, since it would mean the money currently flowing into their areas was diverted to the regime; and on the other side, the Asad regime does not want these people back—it threw them out of its zone quite deliberately.

“The duty of Muslims today in Syria is to renew their faith, correct their intentions, and fix what has been corrupted by the Awakening councils” so that people in Idlib and Aleppo displaced from elsewhere in the country can return to their homes with dignity, rather than living as humiliated strangers in virtual exile, says Al-Naba in conclusion, while also calling for a focus on freeing the prisoners held by the Asad regime and the PKK. It is not an absolute shock that IS’s proposal for achieving this is jihad.

Around the World

IS continues to report operations from Africa, including a particularly large and grim report from Nigeria and lauding IS’s legions in the Congo for attacks on several barracks and Christian villages. The assassination of a senior military officer in Egypt is documented.

Guerrilla operations in Iraq stretch from Diyala in the east to Kirkuk and Salahuddin in the centre (both of which get rather extensive coverage) to Mosul and all the way to Anbar in the west.

In Syria, IS celebrates a series of operations against the PKK in its “Rojava” area, including six in Raqqa and the assassination of a PKK leader in Deir Ezzor, named as Ghassan al-Khabal, reportedly shot down outside his home in Diban. The destruction of two regime vehicles and the killing of five soldiers in the deserts of eastern Homs is also noted.

Perhaps most notable—and its most graphically grisly report in the 286th edition of Al-Naba—is the documentation of a series of assassinations against the regime in Deraa, in southern Syria, an area where IS has been rebuilding its presence.

The most aesthetically odd report in issue 286, squeezed into the bottom of page ten and not even split into two columns, is a report of an attack on a checkpoint in eastern Hama, an area IS is not in all that often, which apparently killed one regime soldier and injured another.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India

A small note on page six of Al-Naba 286, under the headline, “Two Policemen Were Shot Dead by Soldiers of the Caliphate in Pakistan”, labelled as being from Wilayat Pakistan (technically Wilayat Bakistan) says that on 28 Ramadan [1442], i.e. 10 May, a car was targeted in Yali, in Mastung District of Balochistan, using a machine gun and a pistol, killing two of the policemen therein and wounding a third, plus inflicting damage on the vehicle. IS was pleased that local media had shown pictures of the damaged car and part of the diaries of one of the IS jihadists who had done this.

Next to the Pakistan item on page six is an item from India (Wilayat al-Hind), which says that, on 7 May, an IS operative threw a grenade at a gathering of Indian policemen in Srinagar, in Indian-ruled Kashmir, wounding six of them. Once again, Al-Naba was pleased that pictures of the damage had made it into local media.

Al-Naba 286, page 8

A rather larger item on page eight lays out the escalating operations of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Afghanistan, with a particular emphasis on a double-tap bombing in Parwan “on Monday” (presumably 10 May) that blew up a bus and then bombed the first-responders, killing and wounding twenty, according to Al-Naba, who are identified as “Rafida” (Shi’is). IS claims to have murdered a “spy” of the Afghan government’s in a village, and to have detonated a bomb against a police vehicle in Kabul, wounding two.

Finally, “in the context of the ongoing economic war”, Al-Naba says that ISKP destroyed three oil tankers and a power station in Kunduz, burned three more fuel tankers in Kabul, and took down eight electricity pylons, half of them in and around Kabul, with two each in Kunduz and Jalalabad.

AL-NABA 287

Al-Naba 287 was released as normal, on Thursday (20 May), and the issue contained three important items: commentary on the Gaza war, the subject of the main editorial on page three; a prominent item on page four about the murder of Sufis in Afghanistan; and the second part of the official biography for Abu Muhammad al-Furqan, the 2009-16 media emir and general manager of IS [who is dealt with in a standalone post].

Global Operations

There is, in Al-Naba 287, all the usual reports of guerrilla operations at the Centre, in Iraq and Syria, where there was one again assassinations in Deraa, and in the provinces, with an emphasis, as there has been for some time, on Africa.

IS prepares to “execute” bandits in Mali (Al-Naba 287)

A noteworthy item on page five has Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) boast of its role in bringing order to Mali by “executing” three bandits whom local Muslims had complained about, and all of page six is given over to Niger. The top item on page seven is about the taking of ghanima (war booty) in the Congo. There were mortar shells fired in Egypt.

The other item on page seven is from India, where IS’s operatives carried out two attacks. First, there was the burning of a Hindu temple in Srinagar, which Al-Naba says is “witnessing continuous operations from the mujahideen”. This attack is claimed as retaliation for the demolition of mosques by the “polytheistic Hindus” (or “idolatrous Hindus”). The second attack, in the same city in Kashmir, was in the Safa Kadal district, the bombing of a checkpoint; it, too, did only “material damage”.

IS burning a Hindu temple in Srinagar (Al-Naba 287, p. 7)

Likely because of Abu Muhammad al-Furqan’s biography being spread over two whole pages, there was an unusual section at the bottom of page nine simply entitled, “Miscellaneous News” (akhbar mutafariqa) that grouped together three small-scale attacks in Iraq, from Salahuddin, Kirkuk, and North Baghdad.

Main Editorial on Palestine

Entitled, “The Road to Jerusalem”, the bulk of the article is a stern attack on HAMAS for deviating from proper jihadi ideology, for embracing nationalism, and for embracing Shi’a Iran and apostate governments like Qatar and Turkey. The other major theme in the article is that those making a fetish of Palestine are betraying religious orthodoxy by placing one Muslim issue above the others—IS stresses that the loss of Andalusia (Spain) should be felt as a wound as raw as Palestine—and are betraying those other issues more practically by devoting all their resources to Palestine.

The editorial opens by saying:

They said in times past that “all roads lead to Rome”. The correct view is that only one road leads to Rome, and it is the same and the only road that leads to Mecca, Jerusalem, and Andalusia. It is the same one that leads to Baghdad, Damascus, and all other captive Muslim capitals and fortresses.

People expect us to talk about Jerusalem in a statement or a speech, in a newspaper or a book, and if the roof [of ambitions] with us was Jerusalem, we would have flooded the world with statements and sermons.

But IS conceives of Jerusalem as part of the religion and the obligations from God, as a debt to be repaid, and Islam has laid out an unambiguous path for the reconquest of Al-Quds, says Al-Naba, pointing to the example of “the Imam of the Mujahideen, [the Prophet] Muhammad” and those Companions who followed after him, who first took Jerusalem away from Christendom and occupied it.[1]

Al-Naba 287 continues:

[P]eople should realize that jihad for the sake of God Almighty differs from what is called resistance. The difference between jihad and resistance is like the difference between truth and falsehood, misguidance and guidance, and the difference between the way of the prophets and the righteous the believers, and the way of [Ernesto “Che”] Guevara and [Yasser] Arafat and [Vladimir] Lenin. [It is the same as] the difference between the road of [the four Rashidun Caliphs] Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali … and the road of [Qassem] Sulaymani and [Ali] Khamene’i! The chasm between the two roads and the two parties is very great, as are the consequences of each. People must correct their path and attune their compass to the signal of jihad, not resistance.

We think that the mujahid who is lying in wait for the Rafida in Iraq is closer to Jerusalem than to the Rafida … We also reckon that the mujahideen stationed on the peaks of Nangarhar [in Afghanistan], the Bossaso reef [in Somalia], the deserts of Nigeria, the jungles of the Congo, or even Mozambique, who walk on the straight path of God, are closer to Jerusalem than the one who claims its victory, but has lost his way to it by following paths other than jihad, and ways other than the ways of the believers.

Jerusalem is on the list with Chechnya, Mosul, Raqqa, Aleppo, and Al-Baghuz, says Al-Naba, as places where “the Muslims” failed and were driven out, and there “will be no return to them without Islam”:

Likewise, Jerusalem will not be freed by those who make distinctions between the Rafida and the Jews! The ambitions of the Rafida [i.e. Iranians] in Jerusalem and Muslim world are no less than the ambitions of the Jews there. If the Jews dream of a state from the Nile to the Euphrates, then the Rafida dream of a state from Tehran to Beirut.

Nor will Jerusalem be liberated by those who make distinctions between fighting the Jews and fighting their bodyguards, the tawaghit of the Arabs, [Qatari emir] Tamim [bin Hamad al-Thani] and [Turkey’s ruler Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, and even the Salul family [Saudi Arabia] and the Nahyan family [that runs the United Arab Emirates]. The Prophet … said: “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him’.”

The editorial does not mention HAMAS by name, and that is clearly deliberate, but this is an unmistakeable reference to HAMAS, which openly takes support from Iran. After the inevitable ceasefire went into effect on 21 May, following eleven days of fighting, HAMAS celebrated the “Victory of the Resistance” in terms clearly directed from Tehran. The support of Qatar and Turkey for HAMAS is also plain, while Saudi and the U.A.E. have—recently—taken a different tack. IS has attacked HAMAS for these allegiances before.[2]

The Hadith, Al-Naba asserts, has confirmed that Palestine will only be conquered by Muslims, not nationalists nor those that hide behind Iran’s Resistance Axis. And nor will the “apostate armies” that surround Palestine—in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria—be any use, says Al-Naba. IS has not lost its way to Jerusalem, Al-Naba reassures readers, but by the same token:

[T]he soldiers of the caliphate did not exaggerate the issue of Palestine and did not make it an exception among the Muslim issues. They set Jerusalem in front of their eyes, but they did not close their eyes to other issues and other wounds of the Muslims. They did not differentiate between the blood of their Muslim brothers in Palestine, and the blood of their brothers elsewhere.

Al-Naba 287 concludes its main editorial by saying Muslims who can fight Israel (never named as such) should do so and “whoever is unable to fight the Jews in Palestine, let him fight them outside it” and also fight “the Jews’ allies”, the idolatrous Arab and Persian governments.

Sufis and Afghanistan

IS celebrates the murder of a Sufi cleric in Afghanistan (Al-Naba 287, p. 4)

ISKP claims to have set off an IED among policemen in the Kalkan area of Kabul on 13 May, killing and wounding ten of them. On the same day, in Kunduz, ISKP says it detonated a bomb among a gathering of Hazara Shi’is, killing and wounding an unspecified number, including one of their imams. And on 14 May, “as part of the ongoing economic war”, ISKP demolished four electricity towers around Kabul.

More saliently, on 14 May, during Friday prayers, ISKP blew up a Sufi mosque in the Shakardara District of Kabul, murdering the determinedly anti-ISKP Sufi imam, Muhammad Numan Fazli, and ten of his followers, while wounding forty more. Fazli is accused of polytheism/idolatry and spreading this heretical doctrine in India and Pakistan.

Quoting a “security source”, Al-Naba says Fazli “had a prominent role in supporting and defending the Afghan government” and “its democracy”, taking money from the Ministry of Endowments and using its platforms to combat the jihadists, whom he described as “Kharijites and Wahhabis”, something IS clearly feels is shockingly unfair.

For good measure, Al-Naba adds that its “source” had told them that after the “peace” deal the U.S. signed with the Taliban, Fazli had switched to a pro-Taliban line and had even met with Pakistani intelligence officers.[3]

 

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NOTES

[1] It is almost certainly unintentional by IS, but the phrasing in Al-Naba 287 is vague enough to avoid taking a position on one of the controversial aspects of early Islamic history—that is attached to a whole series of things that are, as we would now say, problematic. The immediate issue is that when the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium lost control of Palestine in 634, one of the very few near-contemporary sources (pp. 106-09) referenced fighting by the “nomads of Muhammad”. Since, by Tradition, Muhammad died in 632, this raises questions. But the broader issue is two-fold. First, the invasion and conquest narrative for how Muslims came to control Palestine is not true; it was a reasonably swift disintegration of Roman civil authority when an exhausted Empire simply could not hold on any longer, followed by a slow conversion process. Which is the second factor: the Arabs who took over Palestine from Christian Byzantium were not Muslims in any recognisable sense; they were monotheists it probably makes the most sense to call “Ishmaelites”. This similarity—indeed, indistinction—with the Christian and Jewish populations around them allowed the new Arab Empire to settle in without sparking massive resistance from communities that were certainly capable, polemically and militarily, of defending themselves, and over the next two centuries the transition process took place that produced the doctrine of Islam as we now know it.

[2] UPDATE: On the rare occasions IS has spoken of Palestine as a subject in itself, its focus has been consistent, namely a ferocious hostility to the other Islamists waging war on Israel, and HAMAS comes in for particular hatred since it is not only part of the Muslim Brotherhood—a movement IS considers its nemesis—but takes support from Iran.

Back in 2008, IS’s then-emir Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi) gave his only speech devoted to the Palestine question. Al-Zawi laid out the “milestones of the HAMAS leadership’s betrayal”: participating in a political process under man-made, secular laws; implied recognition of Israel, since they recognise the U.N.; and allying with “apostate regimes”, including Asad’s Syria, which had among other things massacred the Brethren and many civilians at Hama in 1982. Al-Zawi’s call at the time was for the military leaders of Al-Qassam Brigades, regarded by IS as following the correct ideology and methodology, to overthrow the “deviant, corrupt political leadership” of HAMAS.

Last year, in the second speech of the current IS spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, even amid a fairly pointed condemnation of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” and the moving of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, directed the worst of his venom at HAMAS. Do not pay any attention to HAMAS”, Abu Hamza thundered: the group is “from the factions of shame” and is one of “the dogs of Iran”. HAMAS, dwelling in the “swamps of apostasy and depravity”, has nothing to say to Muslims, Abu Hamza went on. The “miscreant, apostate HAMAS movement and Hizbullat” have only “hollow statements and declarations”, said Abu Hamza.

When Al-Naba commented on the Embassy move itself, it obviously did not support it but said this was simply a symptom of a broader problem—and HAMAS was a larger element of that problem, since it gave Islamic covering to heresy. By keeping the jihadists out, HAMAS “protect the Jews from the blows of the mujahideen”, said Al-Naba, and since they rule by other than the shari’a they have affronted God and their “refuge is hell”.

[3] UPDATE: The Taliban referred to Fazli in a statement after he was killed as “an imam who backed the call of the Islamic Emirate”. That this was in the context of an anti-ISKP polemic, accusing the “mysterious ‘Daesh’ group” of being a front for the Afghan government, suggests an evidence-against-interest reason to believe Fazli had in fact changed loyalties and was a Taliban supporter at the time he was killed, a worrying trend among many as the Western withdrawal proceeds.

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