An American Who Rose to the Top of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 April 2017

The eighth edition of the Islamic State’s magazine, Rumiyah (Rome), was released on 5 April 2017, and contained an obituary for one of the architects of the magazine itself. Named by his kunyas, Abu Sulayman al-Shami, Abu Sulayman al-Halabi, and Ahmad Abdul-Badi Abu Samrah, the jihadist referred to is Ahmad Abousamra, a U.S.-Syrian dual citizen. Abousamra is quite possibly the most senior American ever to have been in IS’s ranks, and the Rumiyah article gives a very interesting glimpse more generally of IS’s hierarchy, particularly the importance of its media and the late emir of that department, Wael al-Fayad. The Rumiyah article is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration, occasional explanatory notes, and interesting or important aspects highlighted.

There is no benefit in a scholar who conceals his knowledge, neither proclaiming the truth nor calling others to it. And there is no benefit in one whose action does not correspond with his knowledge. Rather, the true scholar is he who takes knowledge as it should be taken, proclaiming it and acting upon it with sincerity to Allah, and how few are such people in these days—days in which knowledge is concealed in the breasts of men and sold at the feet of the tawaghit, who seek to increase their adherents and followers.

Abu Sulayman al-Shami, may Allah accept him, was a knowledge seeker from among a rare class of scholars. He knew that faith, in deed, cannot be obtained except through knowledge—so he sought it in order to establish his iman. And he knew that true comprehension in the religion is something good that Allah gives to whomever He wishes of His slaves, so he strove in seeking that goodness by increasing himself in righteous deeds. And he ascertained that the zakah due upon knowledge is to convey it to the people, so he endeavored to do that as much as he could, using both his pen and his tongue. Fearing that he would be one who speaks hypocritically, he pursued the course to which he called others, so his end was as he wished: to be killed for the cause of Allah on the frontlines. We consider him so, and Allah knows best about him.

Journeying in Search of the People of Truth

The Dunya and its adornments could not tempt him. Scholastic degrees and their deception could not confine him. Neither a spouse, nor wealth, nor children could entice him away from his religion. Rather, he cast all of that behind him when he understood tawhid and knew that jihad in Allah’s cause is the best proof of his allegiance to the Muslims and his disavowal of the mushrikeen, amongst whom he was born, raised as a child, and entered into manhood.

He completed his studies in Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, graduating as an engineer and programmer, before resolving to go forth in the cause of Allah with some of his friends. So they left as muhajirun to Allah, not coordinating their journey with anyone. They roamed between Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq, hoping to meet someone who would bring them to the mujahideen. But once they became weary of finding the way, and as they feared inciting the suspicions of intelligence agencies, they returned to America, asking Allah to guide them towards their goal.

He didn’t stay long until he decided to try and make America itself the frontlines for his jihad and the place for his martyrdom. So he planned, along with two of his companions, to carry out an operation that would target Americans in their own land. They drew up their plans for their desired operation, including the seizure of some weapons from the Crusaders, which they would then use for an attack behind enemy lines that they hoped would cause the killing of a large number of mushrikeen. However, Allah decreed otherwise, and He does what He wills. Their plot was discovered just days before the operation’s appointed time. But Allah saved him from falling into captivity, allowing him to leave America before the FBI could gather sufficient information to release an order for his arrest and put a $50,000 reward on his head.

Coming to the Islamic State

At the beginning of the jihad in Sham [Syria], Abu Sulayman went out in search of the people of tawhid among the various fighting factions. He fought alongside one of the factions until he was wounded in a battle against the Nusayriyyah in a neighbourhood of Halab [Aleppo]. Then, when he heard that the soldiers of the Islamic State had come to Syria, working under the name “Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham,” he joined up with them and met with their leaders, knowing that they were soldiers of Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq at the time. He requested that they transfer him to Iraq, but they did not give their consent. He then insisted that they allow him to execute an istishhadi operation against the Nusayriyyah, but they postponed their response to him. So he continued to give lessons on aqeeda to those of the mujahideen who were with him, performing ribat on the fronts of Aleppo city and participating in raids against Nusayri positions, until the tribulation and discord caused by the treacherous [Abu Muhammad] al-Jolani occurred and the truth of what they were concealing became clear to him. Abu Sulayman then criticized them for their betrayal of the Islamic State and their violation of their covenant and bay’ah to Amir al-Mumineen Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He began exposing the truth of the situation to other soldiers, showing them that Jabhat an-Nusra had been trying to hide their original allegiance to the Islamic State, and he explained to them that it was not permissible to stop obeying Amir al-Mumineen or retract their bay’ah as long as they did not see blatant kufr from him. Because of this, the people of betrayal became fed up with him and sought some way to get rid of him. They remembered his previous insistence on seeking permission to carry out an istishhadi operation, so they gave their approval and even tried to convince him to carry it out—but he knew their real aim, uncovered their plot, and announced to them his disavowal of them, leaving their ranks in order to renew his bay’ah to Amir al-Mumineen and his status as one of his soldiers.

No One Dies before His Time Is Due

Under the banner of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS], Shaykh Ahmad Abdul-Badi Abu Samrah worked like the other soldiers, not considering himself to be above them due to his knowledge, nor distinguishing himself from them with any title. Rather, he moved between the ribat lines and fighting positions, having again joined the caravan of the istishhadiyyin. He continued to insist that the umara allow him to execute his own operation, until they found an appropriate target for him: a large group of supporters of the taghut, Bashar [al-Assad], at the heart of the Nusayri regime-held areas inside the city of Aleppo. So the plan was made for him to sneak into the middle of a gathering and detonate his explosive belt, thereby ripping apart those murtadeen. But no one dies before his time is due, and Allah ordained that Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Furqan would find him, meet with him, get to know him well, and thereafter order him to not proceed with the planned operation, sending another mujahid in his stead. It was then decided to bring him to the Media Diwan of the Islamic State, which Shaykh Abu Muhammad was striving to enhance by widening its activities and supporting it with cadres of qualified scholars and technicians.

Our Meeting Will Be at Dabiq

The practical beginning of activity by Abu Sulayman “al-Halabi” (as he was known to many mujahideen) in the Media Diwan was his working on organizing the foreign languages team, which was started by Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Furqan to inform Muslims in the east and west about the Islamic State and to urge them to perform hijra to it. He worked on various videos that were released under “Al-Hayat Media Center,” which was founded for this wide-reaching purpose. Abu Sulayman endeavored, along with his brothers, to translate to and from the English language, until the idea came to produce a magazine directed towards English speakers, especially after the success of the “IS Reports” bulletin. Shaykh Abu Muhammad thus resolved to shift that project to a periodical, the blessed “Dabiq” magazine, which attained global popularity and peerless success, by Allah’s grace.

At the same time, Abu Sulayman’s gifts of writing, composition, and cognition began to surface, as the light of shar’i knowledge shone in what he said and wrote. This was observed and evaluated by Shaykh Abu Muhammad, who studied how he worked in the service of Allah’s religion. He saw him as his obedient soldier, who would not disobey him in any virtuous matter, nor give preference to others over him, nor be stingy when giving him counsel.

So Dabiq was released with its name chosen by Shaykh Abu Muhammad, in order to frustrate the Crusaders of Rome and convey to them their inevitable end—by Allah’s permission—just as Allah’s Messenger explained, as well as to remind the mujahideen of the promise from Shaykh [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi to the Muslims, when he said, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify—by Allah’s permission—until it burns the Crusader armies in Dabiq.” And it was Shaykh Abu Sulayman al-Shami who assumed the role of being its chief editor.

He would write many articles for the magazine, review what his fellow editors wrote, and scrutinize any materials that were translated for publishing, spending a great deal of time and effort doing so. Likewise, Shaykh Abu Muhammad kept close to them in the different aspects of their work, and due to his extra care that the message of the Islamic State be delivered to the world in the most glorious appearance, he would assess most of the material alongside Abu Sulayman, often even directing the team in matters of formatting and design, until Allah gave success to this magazine and made its published content the talk of the media.

The project then branched out further to include magazines in other foreign languages. There was Istok in Russian, Konstantiniyye in Turkish, and Dar al-Islam in French. At the same time, Al-Hayat Media Center increased its output of content, translating published Arabic content into the main languages, as well as into other major world languages, until it became unlikely that there were any group of people on earth whom the content produced by the Islamic State and its publications did not reach in their language.

Signed by Abu Maysara al-Shami

In addition to Abu Sulayman’s responsibilities in managing Dabiq and his leadership of all the foreign language teams, Shaykh Abu Muhammad relied on him greatly for drafting treatises and articles which would clarify the methodology of the Islamic State and expose its enemies. The Shaykh was greatly occupied with Diwan-related affairs and his many responsibilities as a general caretaker of the Islamic State, for which he was delegated by Amir al-Mumineen. And convinced of his ability to write, the quality of his writing, his proficiency in shar’i knowledge, and his understanding of the Islamic State’s methodology, the Shaykh entrusted Abu Sulayman—under his direct supervision—to draft his ideas into articles, which he did under the pen name “Abu Maysara al-Shami.”

The reputation of this name became widespread, especially due to the many shots he took at the Sahwat of apostasy and their evil scholars. He exposed the factions of division and detriment, who ascribe themselves to Islam, and their deviant and whimsical leaders, and he tore away the veils from many “symbols” whom people worship besides Allah. The name “Abu Maysara al-Shami” became a source of worry for the Sahwah factions and their supporters, especially for their evil scholars who defend the mushrikeen—and who complained time and again, constantly unable to refute those articles. And while many attempts were made to uncover his identity, all of them ended in failure, for Abu Sulayman was reserved when he spoke, discreet when he worked, was cautious of riya [showing off], avoided fame, and would abstain from seeking popularity.

Abu Sulayman was extremely zealous in religion, furious when angered for the sake of Allah, and had severe hatred for the evil scholars. He was especially disgusted by those of them who ascribed themselves to following the Salaf in matters of tawhid and jihad, at their forefront being the shuyukh of the Sahwat and their “theorists.” He would use any opportunity he could to warn against them and make their vile deeds and abject stances known to the public. He would incite his brothers and his amir to kill them and put a direct end to their fitna, nominating himself to carry out this mission and achieve this goal, just as he would specifically call for the killing of the many evil scholars who are allied to the Crusaders. An example of this was that he took part in planning to kill the American apostate Hamza Yusuf during his last trip to Turkey. However, it was Allah’s decree that he would escape the hands of the Islamic State cells operating there.

Knowledge, Action, and Da’wah

The knowledge of Shaykh Abu Sulayman was not abstract and theoretical. Rather, he was practical with his knowledge, only focusing his attention on what would benefit him in his religious practice and benefit his brothers in their worldly affairs. He was well-versed in matters pertaining to tawhid, familiar with the various sects both new and old, acquainted with the opinions of the fuqaha, having great concern for following the way of the Salaf, and being very wary of the people of heresy and their statements. He would often look to the words of the imams of the Najdi da’wah, conscious of the deviations that crept into this da’wah at the hands of those who ascribed to it later on, those who allied with the tawaghit from Al-Saud and their subordinates.

Due to the great attention he gave to discovering the truth, he would spend many long hours researching scholastic arguments in search of the correct opinion, no matter who said it. He did not turn away from the truth in order to follow a known imam or a famous opinion. He would start working early in the morning, organizing the work with his brothers on the Dabiq team and on the various other language translation teams, thereafter meeting with some of his mujahid brothers to clarify for them any dubious matters they faced regarding the Islamic State’s methodology, guiding them to the correct way. After these exhaustive discussions and debates, he would return to his research, investigation, writing, and reviews until the late hours of the night. Having been fatigued by long hours of work and hunger, often not eating more than a few morsels, he would come home to his family exhausted for the sake of Allah.

Martyrdom … An Undying Love

The immense benefit he brought to the Muslims did not lessen his persistence to seek carrying out an istishhadi operation, just as his constant engagement in seeking knowledge and da’wah did not extinguish his desire to return to the fronts of combat and the lines of ribat. Whenever time became tight and the release of Dabiq was delayed, he would jokingly tell his brothers that the only way forward to take a rest from this work is to execute istishhadi operations. Likewise, whenever he found his brothers planning a new project, he would tell them to leave him out of it and let him focus on planning his istishhadi operation.

In his final days, he worked with Shaykh Abu Muhammad on accomplishing the “Rumiyah” project, the goal of which was to expand the Islamic State’s reach by releasing one magazine in several languages, with each language’s version being periodically released at the same time. By the grace of Allah, the project was successful and Rumiyah was released as a monthly magazine—published in eight languages—by which Allah enraged the disbelievers, brought joy to the believers, and supported the Islamic State and the Muslims. Then, after the first issue was released, Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Furqan was killed in a Crusader airstrike in the city of Raqqa. His departure greatly saddened Abu Sulayman, as could easily be seen, due to the lofty position the shaykh held in his heart, as well as his knowledge of the shaykh’s status in the Islamic State, among its leaders and its soldiers.

Abu Sulayman continued requesting permission to go to ribat and participate in battle, until his amir finally accepted. He then went out, seeking the nearest point of ribat to the enemy and the most dangerous to the fighters, and his brothers guided him to the combat raging north of the city of Tabqa. With a few of his brothers, he went to one of the nearby villages that was under Crusader aerial bombardment, staying there until his appointed time came, and he was killed—in the second week of Rabi al-Akhir [or Rabi al-Thani] in the year 1438 [10-16 January 2017]—by a missile that struck the house in which they were entrenched. As such, he achieved that which he desired most, and the story of his jihad ended just as he had wanted at its beginning: with martyrdom for the cause of Allah, on the frontlines, neither turning his face away from the enemy nor fleeing from battle. We consider him so, and Allah knows best about him.

Thus departed Abu Sulayman al-Shami, who did not give his body, mind, or thoughts any rest since meeting his shaykh, the gallant Abu Muhammad al-Furqan. He departed, leaving his image imprinted in the minds of his brothers, sitting at his computer in the darkness of night and the early hours of morning, researching an issue, reviewing a book, or writing an article. He departed, having known that media is for calling people to Allah, guiding them to His cause, and inciting them to kill His enemies, and having worked according to that knowledge and proven himself well.

May Allah have mercy upon you, Abu Sulayman, and may He gather us with you and your teachers in Illiyyin.

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