Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman from Nangarhar province, says—and the spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, confirmed—that the leader of the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK), Sad Arhabi, was killed in an airstrike in his province last night. It seems another ten ISK jihadists were killed alongside Arhabi. Continue reading
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the U.S. Department of Treasury, on 20 November, sanctioned “a network of individuals and entities involved in a large-scale scheme to help Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) counterfeit currency to support its destabilizing activities” in Yemen. Continue reading
The Iraqi Kurdish authorities arrested Mustafa Haji Muhammad Khan (Hassan Ghul) on 23 January 2004. Khan had been dispatched to Iraq by Nashwan Abdulbaqi (Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi), one of the key military officials of al-Qaeda “central” (AQC), to function as AQC’s intermediary with Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the founder of the Islamic State movement. Khan replaced Abdallah al-Kurdi, the first envoy sent by Abdulbaqi. Al-Kurdi had failed to establish any footing to do his job effectively, but Khan, a battle-hardened jihadist from Baluchistan, earned a measure of respect from al-Khalayleh and facilitated a productive conversation between AQC and al-Khalayleh. Al-Khalayleh, possessed of a pathological anti-Shi’ism, wrote a seventeen-page memo to Usama bin Ladin explaining his strategy to defeat the Americans by starting a total war between the sects in Iraq. That memo, in digital form, was given to Khan, and Khan had it in his possession when he was captured. The letter was translated and publicized by the State Department, and is reproduced below with minor editions for clarity and some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading
The Islamic State’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), took the anti-Shi’ism within jihadi-salafism, and moved it to ideological centre-stage in his campaign to implement a shari’a regime in Iraq. In a speech on 18 May 2005, “The Return of Ibn al-Alqami’s Grandchildren”, al-Khalayleh cast the Shi’a as the internal enemies of Islam. Al-Alqami, a Shi’a, was the vast vizier of the Abbasid caliphate and allegedly opened the gates to allow the Mongols to sack Baghdad in 1258. In al-Khalayleh’s telling, the Iraqi Shi’a repeated this in 2003 by welcoming the Americans—a piece of sectarian incitement first used by Saddam Husayn. Al-Khalayleh makes reference to Shi’a figures conspiring in the American project for a New Iraq, something unalterably opposed not only by al-Khalayleh but most Iraqi Sunnis and their “resistance” groups, who objected to their loss of primacy in the aftermath of Saddam, flatly rejecting the demographic facts of Iraq that grant them a smaller share of power than they feel is their due. This political grievance is secondary to al-Khalayleh, however. Al-Khalayleh advances a cosmic, theological argument. To al-Khalayleh, the existence of the Shi’a is a standing affront to the “true” faith and a temptation for Sunnis to fall into apostasy, and since the need to defend the faith itself is above the protection of human life, the shedding of the blood of Shi’a civilians licit. This is the intellectual universe in which al-Khalayleh and his successors dwell. Excerpts from the speech are republished below. Continue reading
This is the second of a six-part series. For part one, see here.
The Origins of the Nizaris in Persia
Hassan-i Sabbah would lead the Nizaris in Persia. Recruited in Rayy, near Tehran, by the chief dawa (missionary) of the Fatimids in 1072, Hassan-i Sabbah went to Egypt between 1078 and 1081, before returning to Iran to proselytize. In 1090, Hassan-i Sabbah won control of the fortress of Alamut in north-west Iran, which would become the headquarters of the Nizaris. Throughout the 1090s, the Nizaris gained control of further castles in Daylam, specifically the Rudbar area; in the southwest of Iran between Khuzestan and Fars; and in the east in Quhistan. Most impressive was the capture of the fortress at Shahdiz, near Isfahan, in 1096-7.
The Daylamis were a notoriously rebellious and hardy people; one of the last to convert to Islam, they were then among the first to assert their independence within it, first politically by forming a separate dynasty and then religiously by converting to Shi’ism. Continue reading
Book Review: The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (1967) by Bernard Lewis
The fourth Caliph, Ali, was assassinated during a civil war that his supporters, Shi’atu Ali (Followers of Ali), lost to the Umayyads, who thereafter moved the capital to Damascus. The Shi’a maintained that the Caliphate should have been kept in the Prophet’s family; over time this faction evolved into a sect unto themselves, which largely functioned as an official opposition, maintaining its claim to the Caliphate, but doing little about it. Several ghulat (extremist) Shi’a movements emerged that did challenge the Caliphate. One of them was the Ismailis. Calling themselves the Fatimids, the Ismailis managed to set up a rival Caliphate in Cairo from the mid-tenth century until the early twelfth century that covered most of North Africa and western Syria. A radical splinter of the Ismailis, the Nizaris, broke with the Fatimids in the late eleventh century and for the next century-and-a-half waged a campaign of terror against the Sunni order from bases in Persia and then Syria. In the late thirteenth century the Nizaris were overwhelmed by the Mongols in Persia and by the Egyptian Mameluke dynasty which halted the Mongol invasion in Syria. The Syrian-based branch of the Nizaris became known as the Assassins, and attained legendary status in the West after they murdered several Crusader officials in the Levant. Attention has often turned back to the Assassins in the West when terrorist groups from the Middle East are in the news, but in the contemporary case of the Islamic State (ISIS) the lessons the Nizaris can provide are limited. Continue reading
In watching the Syrian conflict, one of the most extraordinary tendencies of the reporting is the way “foreign fighter” and “jihadist” have become synonymous with the Sunni militants who have descended on that tormented country. This is one among many illusions that will hopefully be ended by Phillip Smyth’s monograph, “The Shiite Jihad in Syria and its Regional Effects“. You should read the whole thing but below are the salient points I took away. Continue reading
Kanan Makiya is of that very small school of Arab writers—Fouad Ajami, Ali Allawi, and Said Aburish about the only others—who write as if the Arabs had any agency at all in the decline of their world. The first part of the book deals with the cruelty of the Arab world in general but the Saddam Hussein regime in particular, Continue reading