The 159th edition of Al-Naba, the Islamic State’s (IS) newsletter, released on 6 December 2018, had a very interesting story on pages nine and ten about three “repentant officers” (dubat al-tayib) from Egypt who joined IS in the Sinai. The two trendlines this story highlighted were: (1) the movement of trained military cadres from the Arab states into IS’s security apparatus, as has been seen with the elements of Saddam Husayn’s fallen regime; and (2) the radicalisation of those Islamists previously prepared to work through the democratic process by the 2013 putsch in Egypt, and the violent crackdown afterwards, which shut down all peaceful paths to change. Al-Qaeda has made this point a staple of its propaganda for some time.
The three former Egyptian soldiers are named by Al-Naba 159 as: Hanafi Jamal Mahmud Salman (Abu Umar), Muhammad Jamal Abd al-Hamid (Abu Bakr), and Khayrat Sami Abd al-Majid al-Sabki (Abu Ali). These men “abandoned the path of ignorance on which the
y were walking”, says Al-Naba, “and emigrated to join their brothers who support and defend Islam, moving from darkness to light.”
The three graduated from the “apostate police college” in 1433 [November 2011-November 2012]. All of them lived rather comfortable lives, and Abu Ali was taken into the special operations division of the Egyptian army because of his strong performance. In short, they all had access to the pleasures of the material world, but their “love for their religion” took them on a different path.
All three were apparently sympathetic to Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood official who became Egypt’s first elected president in June 2012, before being overthrown in a coup d’état on 3 July 2013 led by the country’s current president, then-Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
After Morsi’s downfall, two large sit-ins gathered in Cairo to protest the liquidation of a democratic order they had supported. On 14 August 2013, Sisi’s regime decided to clear the two encampments, at the squares in Al-Nahda and Rabaa al-Adawiya, in sanguinary fashion, slaughtering more than 800 people and probably more than 1,000, a massacre with few precedents in recent history.
Shaken by these events, the point of no return came after the three were reported to the state security because of their appearance, particularly their beards, says Al-Naba. During interrogations, they were asked about their prayers. “Simply keeping prayers triggers alarm bells for the tawaghit of Egypt!” exclaims Al-Naba.
Two days after this questioning, they were arrested by the security forces and separated into different departments: Abu Umar was given to the Public Security branch of the Interior Ministry in Aswan; Abu Bakr to Public Security in Suhaj; and Abu Ali to the same branch in the New Valley (al-Wadi al-Jadid).
Realising the enormity of the enmity of the “system of apostasy” (nizam al-rada) towards Islam, Al-Naba continues, they “began to seek … the correct approach” on tawhid (monotheism) and the rest. This caused a desire to repent and pursue jihad in “the lands of Islam” (ard al-Islam).
In 1436 [October 2014-October 2015], the three considered going to Syria, but decided it was unwise, Al-Naba says. In 1437 [October 2015-October 2016], the security restrictions were at their height in Egypt—so much so that they felt their own families were a threat. At this point, the trio considered two options: a terrorist attack in the “sixth district” in north-eastern Cairo, or migration to join the jihadist insurgency in Sinai.
In the event, they went to the Sinai and were greeted by “the brothers”, delighted by having escaped “the clutches of polytheism and ghawaya (temptation)”. “These beautiful moments remained stuck in their minds and hearts”, says Al-Naba, as did the hugging and tears on this first day in their “land of jihad” (ard al-jihad).
Because of their skills and combat experience, the three were appointed to IS’s “security detachments” (al-mafariz al-amniya). The three were specifically appointed to counterintelligence, charged with rooting out and eliminating spies, and proved highly-skilled at it. Abu Umar became part of the “Military Planning Department” (Idarat al-Takhtit al-Askari). They also trained IS’s military cadres and planned various attacks against regime targets such as checkpoints.
Abu Bakr was killed in an Israeli airstrike that also injured Abu Umar and Abu Ali in late 2016. The two survivors continued to incite others to jihad and to train them for its conduct until they were killed earlier this year in the Sinai by airstrikes.
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Al-Naba always has, on page eleven, a roundup of the week’s news. It is a slightly surreal part of the newsletter mostly when one considers how it must come about, with IS operatives in remote areas of Iraq and Syria scanning the Western media for the stories of the week—the section regularly includes news about Donald Trump and natural or other disasters in America (plane crashes, school shootings, and so on). The interest of it is the indication it gives of where IS’s attention is and where it is trying to direct the attention of its followers.
This week’s section led off with the revelations of the synagogue in Dubai. As Al-Naba noted, as so often in this section without much rhetoric, the publicisation of this comes in the context of expanding relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. It could be added: for the U.A.E., the timing was especially helpful, restoring a narrative of tolerance and shared interests with the West after its outrageous show-trial of British citizen Matthew Hedges on blatantly fabricated espionage charges and the revelations, after his “pardon”, that Hedges was mistreated in Emirati custody.
Next was the decision by Saudi Arabia to permit the opening of churches, and then the disappointment expressed “in a Hebrew newspaper” of the Israeli security establishment at the Egyptian government’s inability to deal with the IS insurgency in Sinai, despite all the assistance provided by Jerusalem and the West. The French riots were the section after this, followed by the threat from Iran’s “moderate” president, Hassan Rowhani, to block the Gulf waterways.
In closing, Al-Naba noted the apparent suicide of Vice Admiral Scott Stearney, the head of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain; the growing power of IS’s “West Africa Province” in Nigeria; and the invitation of Qatar, by the Saudi King, to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting, their first correspondence since the “boycott” (blockade) began in June 2017.
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 The only recent atrocity to surpass Rabaa in terms of scale for an individual incident is the 21 August 2013 Sarin nerve agent attack by Bashar al-Asad’s regime on the Ghuta suburbs around Damascus, which murdered 1,400 people in a morning.
There were massacres of hundreds of people in South Sudan in late 2011 and early 2012, right after it declared its independence, but these were somewhat different in type, raids as part of a civil clash rather than a government attacking its population, and in any case they were atrocities over days and weeks—and none reached the totals recorded at Rabaa.
The figures for the massacre of protesters by the government of Uzbekistan at Andijan in May 2005 are very uncertain; activists claim over 1,000, but human rights groups put the figure at “several hundred”. In either case, Andijan is probably the nearest analogue in recent memory to what happened at Rabaa.
The most infamous atrocity similar to Rabaa and Andijan is the Chinese government’s mass-murder of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, which was on a scale orders of magnitude above both.