Credible reports over the last few days indicate that Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is dead, and there are even clearer reports that two of his most senior deputies have been killed. The terrorist network itself, however, will survive. Al-Qaeda has, in the last ten years, survived the killing of its charismatic founder Usama bin Laden, the upheaval of the “Arab spring”, and the rise of the Islamic State (IS)—all of them greater challenges than whatever short-term turbulence might attend the succession process. Continue reading
A lengthy document—roughly sixty pages and 12,000 words—was published online on 21 February 2019 containing biographies of twenty-seven senior Islamic State (IS) officials, past and more recent. Those bios that are dated were written between October 2018 and the time of publication, with one exception that was written in the summer of 2018. The author claims to be an IS veteran. While longevity is difficult to prove, the fact that the author provides heretofore unseen images of some of the IS leaders suggests that at a minimum he is an IS operative. Continue reading
Abu Mahmud al-Filistini (@battar2812) is a London-based jihadi cleric, one of those to whom al-Qaeda’s loyalists look for guidance. An essay by Abu Mahmud, “An Indispensable Though Imperfect Unity,” has been put out defending Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the restructured al-Qaeda presence in Syria. Abu Mahmud writes mostly against those who are attacking HTS “from the Right,” the jihadists who believe that the rebranding and merging with groups of distinctly imperfect jihadi-salafist credentials like Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi is a betrayal of the cause. Abu Mahmud writes specifically and harshly against Issam al-Barqawi (Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi), the Jordan-based cleric who is the leading light of the part of the jihadi world that did not go over to the Islamic State, without ever naming him. The essay is reproduced below with some interesting and/or important parts highlighted in bold, and some notes added. Continue reading
On 20 November 2016, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence in Syria, published its first official account of how JFS, previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, split from its parent organization, the group we now know as the Islamic State (IS). The statement was composed by Abdelraheem Atoun (Abu Abdullah al-Shami), identified as the General Judge of JFS. It is apparently drawn from the book, “Under the Shade of the Tree of Jihad” (p. 177-194), and the post was entitled, “The Establishment of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Events of al-Sham [Syria] from the Beginning of the Disagreement to the Announcement of al-Dawla [the State]”. On 27 November, Bilad al-Sham Media released an English language version of this statement, which is reproduced below with some editions for spelling, grammar, and so on, and some especially notable sections bolded. Continue reading
The Islamic State’s (IS) weekly newsletter, al-Naba, interviewed a high-ranking al-Qaeda defector, Abu Ubayda al-Lubnani, across two issues in February and March. Abu Ubayda appeared on a list of prominent clerics supporting IS’s caliphate declaration in February 2014, and two months later his defection from al-Qaeda to IS was announced by al-Battar. Abu Ubayda is described by al-Naba—as best as can be told accurately—as having been a member of al-Qaeda’s: Shura [Consultation] Council, a training officer in its Military Committee, and a counter-intelligence officer. Abu Ubayda is advertised as speaking about many secret aspects of al-Qaeda.
Among the topics Abu Ubayda covers is the alleged infiltration and manipulation of al-Qaeda by foreign intelligence services, specifically Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is not only a violation of jihadist doctrine by collaborating with an “infidel” and illegitimate state but led to the deaths of a number of senior al-Qaeda leaders.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of what Abu Ubayda has to say relates to al-Qaeda’s attempt to take advantage of the Syrian revolution. This persistent campaign has followed a pattern of disguising al-Qaeda’s presence and attempting to influence and eventually co-opt the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. One lever al-Qaeda relied upon, according to Abu Ubayda, was Ahrar al-Sham, an organization that disclaims all connections to al-Qaeda and dissimulates about its ideology. Whatever Ahrar’s dominant ideology, it is simply a fact that it has served as the bridge between the foreign-led jihadists and Syrian Islamists, and its connections to al-Qaeda are evident enough. Abu Ubayda suggests Ahrar’s connections to al-Qaeda are even deeper than they appear. Continue reading
The spokesman of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, gave a speech via audio message on 11 May 2014, entitled “‘Adhr’a emir al-Qaeda” (Apologies, emir of al-Qaeda). Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, disowned ISIS, al-Qaeda’s prior Iraqi branch, in February, and then gave an extended statement a few days ago that placed blame for the schism squarely on ISIS. Al-Adnani’s speech was a response to al-Zawahiri, and it was among ISIS’s most stern attacks on al-Qaeda so far. Al-Adnani denounced al-Zawahiri for allegedly deviating from the outlook of Usama bin Ladin. Al-Adnani called on al-Zawahiri to reverse his ruling that accepted Jabhat al-Nusra’s split from ISIS. Al-Nusra has rebelliously broken its pledge of allegiance to ISIS, al-Adnani says, and al-Zawahiri’s duty was to side with ISIS against this renegade—not to join in a campaign of sedition and conspiracy against ISIS. Most intriguingly, al-Adnani denied that ISIS had ever been, in a formal sense, subordinate to al-Qaeda. Rather, says al-Adnani, ISIS had placed itself in a position of voluntarily labelling themselves as al-Qaeda and accepting the advice of the “elders of jihad” in order to unite the ranks of the jihadists. But, says al-Adnani, this was not a command relationship for ISIS’s internal affairs: witness, al-Adnani says, ISIS’s refusal to listen to al-Qaeda’s order to cease attacking Shi’i civilians. Though, says al-Adnani, ISIS did obey al-Qaeda in external matters, specifically not targeting Iran, where al-Qaeda has an important facilitation network that serves as its supply line from Afghanistan-Pakistan to the Arab world. Al-Adnani’s speech was translated today by Musa Cerantonio, an Australian convert to Islam who is one of ISIS’s most important international propagandist-recruiters. Al-Adnani’s speech is reprinted below. Continue reading