As-Sabah Media released a video on 3 May 2014 that contained a speech from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, responding to the ferocious statement by the spokesman of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which denied that ISIS was ever under al-Qaeda’s command and thus al-Zawahiri’s expulsion of ISIS from al-Qaeda in February was a meaningless gesture. Al-Zawahiri presents a compelling case to the contrary, drawing on documents sent by ISIS’s leaders, past and present, to al-Qaeda, some of which are public—taken in the raid that killed Usama bin Ladin. Al-Zawahiri concludes with a call for ISIS to return to the fold, to accept al-Zawahiri’s order that ISIS leave Syria and return to Iraq—even if they think it is unjust—for the sake of jihadi unity and avoiding the shedding of Muslim blood. The speech is entitled, “Testimonial to Preserve the Blood of the Mujahideen in Syria,” and was translated by Pieter Van Ostaeyen at Flashpoint Partners. It is reproduced below with some minor editions and some important sections highlighted in bold.
I had decided to suffice with the words I testified with in regards to the fitna [strife] between the mujahideen in Sham [Syria]. This, until I heard the appeal from the brother, Abu Karim [Hani al-Siba’i] so I decided after consultation and istikhara [prayer for guidance] to return to this subject. Especially in regards to the questions he [Abu Muhammad al-Adnani] posed in his talk on the 25th of Jamadi al-Awal, Year 1435, through al-Maqrizi Radio.
I have returned to this subject for two reasons. The first reason is that what the dear brother brought up might extinguish the fitna. And another reason was due to a request of another brother. I will divide this talk into a testimony, order, appeal, and advice.
As for the testimony, it’s about the Islamic State of Iraq [ISI] and its leader, the Venerable Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, May Allah preserve him and their connection to al-Qaeda.
This is my testimony: I swear unto God that the Islamic State of Iraq was a branch of the al-Qaeda organisation and details:
A) When ISI was announced, the leadership of al-Qaeda under Shaykh Usama [bin Ladin] was not asked for permission, consulted, or even made aware of it! Abu Hamza al-Muhajir [Abdul Munim al-Badawi] sent a letter to the central leadership justifying the creation of a state, stating that its allegiance was to al-Qaeda. And that the brothers in their Shura took an oath to Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, and his leader is Usama bin Ladin and that ISI is part of al-Qaeda. The brothers decided to work like this but not announce it publicly due to certain political considerations as they saw it.
B) The brothers in the leadership of al-Qaeda and ISI used to work on the basis that ISI was a part of al-Qaeda. Some examples on that:
The message found in Abbottabad [SOCOM-2012-0000011] and this message was from Atiya [Abdurrahman, real name: Jamal al-Misrati] to Mustafa Abu al-Yazid [a.k.a. Saeed al-Masri]. In it, Shaykh Atiya mentions that they have to send firm guidelines to al-Karoumi [Abu Hamza al-Muhajir] for fear of falling into political mistakes.
When Abu Bakr took over control of ISI, Shaykh Atiya sent a letter to ISI leadership in Jamadi al-Awal, 1431 [May 2010] saying: “We suggest the brothers in the leadership that they appoint a temporary leader until consultation is over. It’s best to stall appointing a new leader until you send us the proposed names, with their biographies and qualifications. We will send this to Usama bin Ladin.”
C) Usama sent a letter to Atiya in Rajab, 1431 [6 July 2010] saying: “We would like if you could provide us sufficient information about brother Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his second in command – Abu Sulayman Nasr Lideen Allah [Numan al-Zaydi] and it’s better if you ask about them from several sources from the brothers that you trust there. So that the situation becomes clearer to us.” And this is also another document found in Usama’s house [SOCOM- 2012-0000019]
D) Atiya replied in a letter from Sha’ban, year 1431 [late July/early August 2010], saying, “We will request the information and get a clearer picture.”
E) Attiyah sent a letter to the [ISI] Media Ministry of ISI in Shawal, 1431 [late September/early October 2010] saying: “The Shaykhs are requesting a biography on the new leaders, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, his second in command and his Minister of War [Numan al-Zaydi]. And if you wish leaders other than them, and you can tell the leaders about this and they can write it themselves if they want it.”
F) a Shura member of the Islamic State replied in Dhul-Qi’dah, the year 1431 [late October/early November 2010] saying:
Dear brother, your message has arrived as well as another message with guidelines from the Shaykhs about the State here and stalling a new leader, but we received it after announcing the new leadership. And we always took care of letting the Shaykhs know about the reality of the situation here.
We are letting you know, O our Shaykhs and Wulaat al-Amr that your State in Iraq is fine and firm.
Our esteemed Shaykhs, after the killing of the two Shaykhs [Abu Umar and Abu Hamza], the Majlis Shura tried delaying appointing a new leader. Until an order from you would come after securing communication, but we could not wait any longer for several reasons. The main reason being the enemies watching us from the inside and outside.
The brothers here and Abu Bakr and the Majlis Shura have no problem [with the idea] that this leadership is temporary, and if anyone is sent from you, and you find that it will ensure the Maslaha for him to take over the leadership. Then we have no problem with that and we will be his soldiers, and this is agreed upon by Abu Bakr and the Majlis Shura [emphasis original].
G) After the death of Usama bin Laden, the venerable Shaykh Abu Bakr said: “I am sure that the Martyrdom of the Shaykh will not increase us except in steadfastness and I say to the brothers in al-Qaeda, and at their front, Shaykh Ayman, and the brothers in the leadership of al-Qaeda, May Allah reward you … And march forward and glad tidings for you have loyal men in ISI, who will not quite or soften” [emphasis original].
H) After this a communication representative in ISI sent a letter to Atiya in Jamadi al-Thaniyah, Year 1432 [May 2011], saying: “Our Shaykh would like to ensure you that the situation here is getting better, Alhamdulillah. And he asks what’s more appropriate in your eyes with the announcement of the new leader of the al-Qaeda organisation. Do we renew the bay’a in public or in secret as it was done before? And we would like you to know that the brothers here are arrows in your quiver” [emphasis original].
I) When I took command after Shaykh Usama, Shaykh Abu Bakr referred to me as his emir, even in the last letter, in Jamadi Awal, year 1434 [April 2013], which he started with: “To our leader and esteemed Shaykh” [emphasis original].
And he also said:
News just reached to me that [Abu Muhammad] al-Jolani made bay’a to you directly, and this is something he was planning … to fortify himself and those who are with him from the consequences of the calamities he did. And I and those with me in Syria see that our shaykhs in Khorasan should have a clear position … to stop this conspiracy before blood streams and we become another reason for our umma [nation] to grieve.
And we see that any support to what this traitor has done or even hinting support will cause create fitna, and will waste the project for which Muslims shed blood and delaying the right position … [It] will lead to the splitting of ranks of the Muslims and will lower the status of the jama’a [group], which will have no cure except the spilling of more blood [emphasis original].
J) Likewise, Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani sent a letter, in Jamadi al-Awal, year 1434 [March/April 2013], which was a Pardon to God, then to the umma, then to his leaders, “Shaykh Doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri and then to Shaykh Doctor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi” [emphasis original].
K) Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sent a letter in Ramadan, 1434 [late July/early August 2013] to one of the officials of al-Qaeda stating:
We have studied the message of Shaykh al-Zawahiri in three stages:
- Consultation with leaders of the State in Syria
- Consultation with leaders of governorates of Syria, who are members of our Majlis Shura there
- Studying the message from a shar’i perspective in our Shari’a Committee.
So we decided to stay after it was clear that obeying our leader would be disobeying God and destruction for our mujahideen, especially the muhajirun, so we sought the pleasure of our Lord over the pleasure of the leader. And it’s not said he who disobeys a command of a leader in which he sees destruction for the mujahideen … a sin to God that he has forsaken good manners [emphasis original].
I will suffice with these examples.
As for the question about the nature of my verdict in this issue, was it an order from a commander to his leaders? Or was it a verdict from a judge? I clarified, in detail, in a letter to the brothers in the State in Shawal 28, year 1434 [4 September 2013], that this verdict was from a leader about a problem between his soldiers and not a verdict from a judge.
And another question which is asked, why did al-Qaeda praise ISI and be satisfied with it but not with ISIS?
The answer is that, even though the [al-Qaeda] leadership was not aware of their [ISI’s] decision, we decided to accept it for several reasons, such as:
A) That the State was not established on grounds of fitna, in which they threatened that they fear spilling of blood if we supported Jabhat al-Nusra.
B) That ISI was established by a Shura of mujahideen and tribes of Ahl al-Sunna, as was told to us by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and he is someone we trust due to having known him for a long time, and that he tried his best to contact other groups to join them. As for ISIS, they only consulted themselves—and this while al-Nusra says they were not consulted!
C) Announcing a State was against the orders of the leadership of al-Qaeda, which ordered that al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria be hidden. Rather the guidelines of the group is to not announce Emirates or States at this stage, which was explained in detail by Shaykh Usama in a letter to Shaykh Atiya, which was found with him [SOCOM-2012-0000019]. And Abu Yahya [al-Libi (Mohamed Qaid)] reminded the brothers in the State and I reminded them again in a letter to Abu Bakr in Jamadi, year 1435 [April 2014].
In it I said: “If you had asked our opinion before announcing the state, we would not have agreed. … We and our brothers here see that the announcement will bring more damage than good … as the elements of a State are until now, not available in Syria.”
D) The announcement of the state caused a political crisis for the people of Syria. When America put al-Nusra on the terror list, the people of Syria came out in demonstrations in support of al-Nusra. But then they started to denounce this announcement. ISIS’s leaders gave this to Assad on a golden plate. And this announcement provoked the other jihadi groups who felt that ISIS was trying to impose themselves on them.
E) The announcement caused a sharp split within the same group which led to infighting, and Abu Bakr himself threatened that any support towards al-Nusra or delaying what he sees to be the “right position” will “lead to a stream of blood,” which indeed has happened.
F) And blood is still being spilt, which would not be the case if ISIS accepted the decision to end the problem, which sought to stop bloodshed among the mujahideen and avoid fitna, and to focus on Iraq, which needs a lot more of their efforts. If they accepted this, and had Shura, and had sam [listening] and ta’ah [obedience] to their leader, and did not rebel against their leadership, then I think they would have avoided this blood stream, would have caused havoc against the Rafidhi regime [i.e. Assad], and would have supported the Sunnis in Iraq ten times more. Alhamdulillah in any case.
This was my Testimony, which I will now follow with an order and an appeal.
As for the order, it is for Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Jolani and his brothers in al-Nusra, and the appeal is for all the mujahideen in Syria: that they stop immediately with fighting in which there is aggression against the souls of their brothers and all Muslims, and they focus on the Ba’athist Nusayris [Alawis] and Rawafid [Shi’is].
I also request that everyone stops accusing each other and name calling each other and that everyone accepts an independent court for the issues that happened between them, and cease causing fitna between the mujahideen in the media and on social media [i.e. Twitter].
And I will end with a reminder and advice.
This is for all the mujahideen in Syria: stop the shedding of haram Muslim blood. Enough with the killing of leaders of jihad and their shaykhs. For all of your blood is dear to us and we hoped it would be shed in support of Islam.
And a reminder and advice for the venerable Shaykh Abu Bakr and whoever is with him. Come back to the sam wa ta’ah to your leaders. Come back to what your Shaykhs and leaders worked for and preceded you in it. Focus on Iraq, which needs more effort; empty yourself for it even if you see yourselves as wronged! To stop this massacre and to focus on the enemies of Islam and the Sunnis in Iraq. Answer my call to stop the Muslim blood from flowing and unite the ranks of the Muslims against their enemy.
And even if you consider it dhulm [oppression]. And a reminder and advice especially for Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to follow the footsteps of your ancestor al-Hassan, who waived his right to the caliphate to safeguard Muslim blood. In which the Bushra came to fruit of the his grandfather and your grandfather the Prophet peace be upon him said: “My son is a Sayyid who Allah might use to make peace between two great groups of Muslims.”
Is this glad tidings not enough? Does it not make you happy to make a decision which Allah will raise you higher in dunya [the temporal world] and akhirah [the hereafter]? And you will repel the enemies of Islam in Iraq, which needs more help, and you will extinguish the fitna and return to love and brotherhood.
Put your faith in god and make this decision and you will find all of the mujahideen and their supporters a source of help for you. O venerable Shaykh, follow your ancestor and be the best successor for the best predecessor and you will win in dunya and akhira.