The Islamic State’s First War Minister

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 25, 2017

One of the few existing pictures of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (Abdul Munim al-Badawi)

One of the few existing pictures of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (Abdul Munim al-Badawi)

Below is reproduced a very short biography for Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, sometimes called Abu Ayyub al-Masri, whose real name is Abdul Munim al-Badawi,[1] that circulated on pro-Islamic State forums. Al-Badawi took over leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) when its founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), was killed on 7 June 2006. Al-Badawi then declared his allegiance to Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) on 10 November 2006, formally dissolving al-Qaeda on Iraqi territory, and becoming al-Zawi’s deputy. Abu Hamza had been in Iraq, including Baghdad, a year before Saddam Husayn was overthrown, and he and al-Zawi were killed together on 18 April 2010.

***

Abu Ayyub al-Masri,[2] the Emir of Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn,[3] an Egyptian weapons expert, was born in Suhaj, a town in Upper Egypt that lies on the west bank of the Nile, in 1968. He went to Afghanistan in 1999[4] and joined al-Faruq training camp, one of Shaykh Usama bin Ladin’s key bases, where he took up explosives training plus other courses in urban warfare.

Picture of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir given by the Islamic State profile.

Picture of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir given by the Islamic State profile.

Later, he moved to live in Baghdad where he spent seven months in [the well-to-do Baghdad neighbourhood of] Karrada, then moved to al-Amiriya where he stayed for six months before he moved to Baghdad al-Jadida in 2003 before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.[5] He was the last one to withdraw from the city of Fallujah in the Second Battle of Fallujah [in November 2004]. He succeeded Shaykh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [as leader of AQI].[6] Soon after, he announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) under the leadership of Shaykh Abu Umar al-Baghdadi in October 2006, and was promoted to be the Minister of Warfare in the Islamic State of Iraq, when he was known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.[7]

Islamic State of Iraq eulogy statement for Emir Abu Umar al-Baghdadi and Military Leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir stated that they were in a house near [Lake] Tharthar, a rural area, for a meeting with the leaders of Jaysh Abu Bakr al-Siddiq al-Salafi, inviting them to join the Islamic State and supporting the jihad, when an Iraqi army patrol came across the house, which led to clashes between the security forces of the Islamic State, before the fighting compelled the Iraqi forces to withdraw from the battle, thus prompting the U.S. aircraft to bomb several houses, one of which was the meeting house.[8]

***

Notes

[1] Abu Hamza’s true identity was the subject of long dispute. U.S. officials initially gave it as Yusuf al-Dardiri. It is easy to see why there was confusion: both al-Dardiri and al-Badawi have very similar biographies: veteran Egyptian Islamic Jihad operatives, long connected to al-Qaeda, and both entered Iraq long before the Coalition. Al-Dardiri had converged on Baghdad in May 2002 with Thirwat Shehata, a long-time associate of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s, and a dozen other al-Qaeda-linked jihadists who joined al-Zarqawi. At around the same time, al-Zarqawi’s brother-in-law Iyad al-Tubaysi (Abu Julaybib)—who now leads a breakaway faction from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS)—joined the others in Baghdad. They were followed soon after by Samir Hijazi (Abu Hammam al-Suri)—another member of this JFS splinter.

When al-Badawi arrived exactly is a bit of a mystery, but he moved to Iraq from the United Arab Emirates, according to his widow. “We lived in Karrada for seven months, then in Amiriya (in west Baghdad), then we moved to Baghdad al-Jadida in 2003 when Saddam’s regime fell with the entry of Americans into the city,” Hasna al-Badawi said.

Al-Badawi had re-affirmed his bay’a [pledge of allegiance] to Usama bin Ladin and ultimately to the Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Umar in his first statement on 13 June 2006, “Their Assembly Will be Defeated, and They Will Turn their Backs,” and made his first tape release on 7 September 2006 that signed-off with his real name and a regards to “our Leader Mullah Umar, our commander Usama, and our Shaykh [Ayman] al-Zawahiri.” On 21 September 2009, ISI named its second “cabinet,” and al-Badawi was once again identified as the true name of Abu Hamza. Al-Badawi was named as Prime Minister or First Vizier and War Minister.

[2] The Abu Ayyub kunya is also of uncertain provenance when applied to al-Badawi: “The U.S. identified [Abu Hamza al-Muhajir] as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, saying he was a veteran member of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s old Egyptian jihadist faction. In November 2010, a Kuwaiti newspaper published transcripts of the interrogations of another Egyptian jihadist detained in Yemen who identified Abu Hamza as Abd al-Munim al-Badawi and said the U.S. incorrectly believed he was known as Abu Ayyub because he had a forged passport in the name of a jailed Egyptian jihadist who used that nom de guerre. The detainee said that Badawi was very close to the al-Qaeda leadership, with Usama bin Ladin describing him as ‘the legend’ for his intelligence gathering capabilities.”

[3] Literally, “The Base of Holy War Organization in the Land of Two Rivers (Mesopotamia),” otherwise known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM).

[4] Al-Badawi had joined Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad in 1982, and at some point in the early 1990s joined al-Zawahiri and the nascent al-Qaeda in Sudan. In 1995, al-Badawi went to Pakistan, apparently frequenting the Usama bin Zayd Mosque, a known outhouse for extremists, and remained there until 1998, when he moved to Yemen, at the time an important throughway and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda, and where al-Badawi met his wife, Hasna. From Yemen, al-Badawi moved to Taliban Afghanistan in 1999 and trained at al-Faruq camp, learning how to put together explosives and, among other things, meeting al-Zarqawi. Swiftly after the fall of the Taliban regime, al-Badawi moved to Saddam’s Iraq—from the United Arab Emirates, according to his widow.

[5] If this math is correct, then al-Badawi arrived in Karrada in February 2002, then moved to al-Amiriya in September 2002, before moving into Baghdad al-Jadida around the onset of the invasion in March 2003.

[6] Al-Badawi clearly held the requisite ultra-extremist jihadi views to succeed al-Zarqawi. In 2004, al-Badawi had written a letter, distributed on jihadist forums, “The Samiri of our Age“.

The Bible (Exodus 32) tells a story of Moses ascending Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments from god, and returning to find that those he has led out of Egypt have broken their covenant at the first opportunity—ostensibly because they thought Moses had deserted them—creating a golden calf to worship. This leads to Moses, in temper, breaking the tablets upon which the commandments are written (god supplies replacements later). The calf is destroyed and Aaron, whom Moses had left in charge of the Israelites, explains that there shouldn’t be so much anger over this given the rotten nature of humanity and concedes that he surrendered to a mob: “Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, ‘Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him’.” This story is rendered into the Qur’an in the twentieth sura.

In the Qur’anic telling, Moses (Musa) has gone to receive guidance from god and Aaron (Harun) is left in charge of the Israelites, and it is Samiri who leads the flock astray. The Israelites are encouraged to throw the ornaments of Pharaoh (Fir’aun) into a fire, and Samiri then “produced [from the fire] for them a statue of a calf which seemed to low. They said: ‘This is your god (ilah), and the god of Moses, but Moses has forgotten [his god]’.” Aaron is reported as telling the Israelites, “O my people! You are being tested in this, and verily, your Lord is (Allah) the Most Beneficent, so follow me and obey my order,” and they respond, “We will never cease being devoted to the calf until Moses returns to us.” When Aaron is asked by Moses if his failure to suppress this heresy means he has abandoned Moses’ cause and command, he replies in terms of communal unity that became such a point of emphasis in Islam: “I feared [to act forcefully] lest you should say: ‘You have caused a division among the Children of Israel, and you have not respected my word!'” Samiri is asked to account for himself and says, “I saw what they did not, so I took a handful [of dust] from the hoof print of the messenger [Gabriel (Jibrael‘s) horse] and threw it [into the fire]. Thus, my inner-self (soul) suggested to me.” Incensed at this, Moses banishes Samiri, who is to have no human contact thereafter, and smashes up the calf, scattering it into the sea. The sura concludes with a stern warning on the Hellfire awaiting the mujrimun [criminals, sinners, polytheists (disbelievers in tawhid)] and those who don’t live by Allah’s law.

For jihadists, Samiri is an ideal villain: a deceitful Jew. And that is how al-Badawi used him in the 2004 letter—to attack non-jihadi clerics. These scholars and jurists, says al-Badawi, know the true path but choose—for money or power—to serve the political leaders of the Arab world by giving them convenient rulings that the jurists know are wrong. In al-Badawi’s telling, this makes these clerics materialists and unbelievers. The letter goes on to accuse moderate Muslims—which for al-Badawi is all who do not hold to jihadi-Salafism—of being worse than Samiri and more astray than the Jews.

[7] After the strategic defeat of ISI in 2008, when it was driven from control of urban areas and into the deserts, it was mocked as a “paper state,” including, apparently, by al-Badawi’s wife. According to Hasna al-Badawi, when interviewed after her husband’s downfall, she once remonstrated with him, asking, “Where is the Islamic State of Iraq that you’re talking about? We’re living in the desert!”

[8] Al-Badawi was succeeded as war minister and ISI deputy by Numan al-Zaydi (Abu Ibrahim al-Ansari or Abu Sulayman al-Nasser).

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