Losing in Yemen, Winning in Afghanistan, Islamic State Weighs in on Arab-Israeli Peace

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 August 2020

Al-Naba 248

The Islamic State (IS) produced the 248th edition of Al-Naba, its newsletter, on 20 August. The front page was devoted to recent events in Yemen, which had not gone well for IS—although one could easily miss that fact when reading a story that a focuses almost entirely on enemy casualties and the failures of others. IS is, of course, not pleased about the Israeli normalisation of relations with the United Arab Emirates, but Al-Naba makes clear that it is more perturbed that Muslims should believe Turkey or Qatar are any better than the U.A.E., despite their different approach to Islamists. Al-Naba 248 documents IS’s continuing advances in Afghanistan—and, indeed, Iraq, Syria, Africa (the Sahel), and Egypt. There is also a report of insurgent activity in the Philippines.

Yemen

The front page of Al-Naba 248, continued on page four, is about IS in Yemen countering an attack in the Qayfa area of Bayda province by the Iran-backed Huthis, formally known as Ansarallah. Al-Naba claims that “the mujahideen” killed and wounded 130 “polytheists/idolaters” (mushrikeen), “despite the great difference in numbers and equipment”. IS claims that recently it has been “alone in fronting the Huthi attacks”, and its forces had persevered to the last despite being outnumbered and outgunned.

IS dates the Huthi attack to 12 August, saying it killed and wounded twenty-five Huthis on this day. IS claims to have launched a raid of its own against the Huthis the following day, which killed and wounded thirty. IS then ambushed a Huthi convoy with a roadside bomb on 14 August, according to Al-Naba, before launching two more IED attacks on Huthi vehicles and bombing a Huthi gathering on 15 August. An “epic” battle is reported with Huthi reinforcements on 16 August, and on 17 August it is claimed that IS killed sixty Huthi fighters and wounded others.

The outcome of this week of “sanguinary confrontations” was, by IS’s count, 100 Huthis killed and thirty wounded, plus a the destruction of Huthi military hardware. It is conceded that IS made “great sacrifices”—the omission of a specific number of killed and wounded on the IS side by Al-Naba is glaring—but, says Al-Naba, this merely “proves [IS] is worthy of the trust placed upon their shoulders to carry the fight for the religion”.

IS says that the “steadfastness” of its jihadists in Yemen should be recognised since they have been trapped in a “rugged area”, i.e. Qayfa, under a “stifling/suffocating siege” (hisar khanaq) for two years, surrounded by the Huthis, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its tribal allies, and the militias associated with the recognised government of president Abdrabbu Mansur Hadi. IS says its fighters in Yemen have suffered not only a lack of ammunition but even a scarcity of food.

Moving to page five, IS notes the “rapid advances” by the Huthis in Qayfa and the fact the Huthis now control large parts of the area, without really conceding it has much to do with them—indeed, while directly refusing responsibility and loading it onto the failure of the tribes to mobilise against the Huthis and the treachery of Al-Qaeda, which withdrew from all of its “contact points” against the Huthis. Any euphoria from the Huthis will be short-lived, Al-Naba concludes, since “the battle between truth and falsehood continues—it is not dependent on the fate of [an individual] city or region—and jihad will continue until the Hour [i.e. the end of time, Armageddon]”.

The Emirati-Israeli Accord, Turkey, and Qatar

The main editorial in Al-Naba 248, on page three, is devoted to reminding readers that, for IS, the United Arab Emirates’ open normalisation of diplomatic relations with Israel on 13 August is neither here nor there; this is a symptom of an impious regime and Turkey and Qatar are no better, despite their alliance with forms of Islamism and Islamists, namely the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen).

Al-Naba pours scorn on the “comic scene” of the Turkish government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan musing on cutting relations with the U.A.E. in retribution for the U.A.E. “announcing its relations with the state of the Jews”, while there is an Israeli Embassy in Erdogan’s capital. This is a “vivid example of the apostates’ manipulation of religion, and its use as a political tool”, says Al-Naba.

The Emiratis did not reveal their apostasy by this normalisation with Israel, nor by their stand against the Brotherhood throughout the region, says Al-Naba. Rather, this apostasy was revealed decades ago because they fail to rule by the law of God.

The “apostates belonging to parties falsely affiliated with Islam” (the Muslim Brethren) are no better than the U.A.E., Al-Naba continues, citing Erdogan—whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) developed from Ikhwani roots—and Muhammad Morsi, the Brotherhood operative who briefly served as Egypt’s first elected president (2012-13), neither of whom ruled by (IS’s interpretation of) the shari’a and both of whom “maintained their treaties with the Jewish state”.

As for Qatar, says Al-Naba, it “preceded the Emirates in their public relations with [Israel]”.

Any objections heard from the Qataris or Turks about what the U.A.E. has done are not out of concern for the Palestinians, says Al-Naba, but out of “envy for their relationship with the Jews, which might increase [the Emiratis’] favours from the Crusaders”. The Saudi government was widely attacked in the Muslim world for hosting the U.S. and British jets that patrolled the no-fly zones in Iraq—“bombed the Muslims of Iraq”, as Al-Naba has it—and Qatar joined in on this, but only, says Al-Naba, so the Americans would move away from the House of Saud and concentrate their regional presence at Al-Udeid Airbase in Doha, making the Qataris their main ally in fighting the jihadists.

Similarly, says Al-Naba, in Iraq there were many ostensibly militant Islamic formations in the mid-2000s, who had condemned the Shi’a parties as traitors to their country and Islam for working with the Americans—“but as soon as the Crusaders reached out to them” during the Surge and Awakening, these insurgent groups “rushed to subordinate themselves [to the Americans] and declared their loyalty to the fight against the Muslims [i.e. IS] under their flag”.

IS concludes that as between the U.A.E., Qatar, Turkey, and the “apostate Brotherhood” there is little more than a jealous bidding war for Western affection ongoing: “We ask God Almighty to expose these apostates, reveal their crimes to the people, and make His punishment for them in this world a sign for everyone who manipulates or distorts His religion or the Holy Law”.

Afghanistan

The largest item on page eight was from Afghanistan, where IS is clearly on the upswing. The title boasts that “the Presidential Palace and the Embassies are Within Range of Islamic State Missiles”.

IS blew up an Afghan police checkpoint in Jalalabad on 14 August, wounding two people, and detonated an IED under a vehicle carrying security personnel in Bagram on 16 August, killing three and wounding one, says Al-Naba.

Later on 16 August, IS fired three Katyusha rockets at the Americans’ Bagram Airbase.

Sixteen Katyusha rockets were then unleashed on 18 August against the Afghan “presidential palace, the Embassies of a number of Crusader countries, and the headquarters of the apostate Afghan government, located in the ‘diplomatic area’ in Kabul”, says Al-Naba. This occurred during the Independence Day celebrations. At least three people were killed and that many wounded, and Al-Naba was especially pleased that international coverage showed smoke billowing over the city.

Al-Naba concluded by noting this was the second time in five months IS in “Khorasan” had attacked the Afghan presidential palace. The last time was on 14 Rajab 1441 (9 March 2020), during the swearing-in of president Ashraf Ghani—which was already contested by another candidate. The IS attacks “caused great embarrassment to him, [getting him off to] a bad start that is still getting worse”.

Miscellaneous

The rest of page five highlights IS attacks in the Sinai in Egypt; attacks in the Philippines, including the 18 August assassination of a police officer in Lanao del Sur in the south of the country; and the assassination of a police officer in Tarmiya, near Baghdad, in Iraq by one of its “security detachments” (mafariz amniya) on 13 August.

Page six was a whole-page spread on a series of attacks in Nigeria that allegedly killed and wounded forty-five people, including members of the Red Cross. Africa has been central to IS’s messaging for some time. Attacks in Nigeria were on the frontpage of Al-Naba last week, and the main editorial in Al-Naba 247 was devoted to justifying attacks on aid workers—leaping off from a defence of the recent murders in the Sahel. Al-Naba 247 said that humanitarian aid workers are spies for blasphemous governments, playing a part in the war against Islam by spreading the false religion of democracy and secularism. Al-Naba went on to attack the United Nations in general as a pillar of this conspiracy and in particular for having pumped “billions of dollars into the Nusayri system [i.e. Asad regime] to help it complete its war on the Muslims of Syria”. What was called “’humanitarian’ aid was converted into army supplies and salaries for [the regime’s] fighters”, says Al-Naba. Many “Crusader states” contributed to this fund, Al-Naba adds. As such, the West has little standing to be concerned about the Islamic State’s atrocities, which are dwarfed many times over by what Asad has done. The fact that what IS says about the U.N. in Syria is effectively true is among the reasons Western policy in that country has been so disastrous: it has given the jihadists a legitimate grievance to weaponise for recruitment, not dissimilar to what happened with Bosnia a generation earlier.

Page seven of Al-Naba 248 purports to document the killing and wounding of thirteen PKK operatives in “Wilayat al-Khayr” (Deir Ezzor) in eastern Syria in four separate attacks; the assassination on 15 August in Al-Bab in Aleppo in northern Syria of Abdallah Shaykhani, a member of the “Awakening Police loyal to the apostate Turkish army” (i.e. the Syrian National Army or SNA, the Turkish proxy militias); and a targeted assassination the same day in Iraq, in the Nimrud area south of Mosul, of a member of the “Tribal Hashd” by IS’s security detachments.

The rest of page eight, after the Afghanistan piece, is devoted to assassinations in Syria. IS claims two assassinations in southern Syria on 18 August: Hassan al-Ruwaydan, a pro-Asad militiaman, in the eastern countryside of Deraa, and another in the same area, Rami al-Khatib, solving what had been a mystery among activists who reported his murder. Al-Khatib is accused by Al-Naba of insulting the prophet and stealthily promoting atheism by criticising the implementation of the shari’a and advocating rationalism. Al-Naba then goes on to claim that IS killed two contractors working for the Russians in western Raqqa province, and abducted and murdered a member of the Ismaili community near Rusafa in southern Raqqa.

Page nine documented a rash of guerrilla attacks in Iraq: in Diyala, Kirkuk, and Anbar.

And page ten is an ideological essay, based on the example of Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the founder of the IS movement, who, says Al-Naba, showed that the jihadists struggle was not solely—or even primarily—with the “occupiers”. The real obstacles to an Islamic state were two-fold, Al-Naba says: the Sunnis who did not share IS’s interpretation of their faith and were even prepared to collaborate in building a democratic order in Iraq, who had to be eliminated; and the Shi’a, who opened the doors to the Americans from without and corrupted the faith from within. Al-Naba reserves especial scorn for those who tried to affect Sunni-Shi’a reconciliation, which would mean bringing the true believers toward “blatant disbelief”. The Naba article notes with approval Zarqawi’s initiation of all-out war against the Shi’is of Iraq. “This blessed approach not only angered people of false religions, but angered even some of the elders of Al-Qaeda … who believed that fighting was only for the invaders … due to their perverted belief in the Islamization of the common people of the Rafida”, says Al-Naba. This issue—whether lay Shi’is were to be targeted for murder, or “only” their leaders (and by extension how to treat Sunni Muslims who did not share a jihadist worldview)—would become one of the central theological disputes between IS and Al-Qaeda.

The news of the week section on page eleven had five items:

  • It led with the Israel-U.A.E. accord. Al-Naba presented it nearly without commentary, noting that some considered it historic, some thought it had prevented Israeli annexation on the West Bank, some saw it as a unification against Iran, and others saw more cynical motives in getting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of some domestic legal trouble and/or assisting President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
  • Next was the Russian bombing of Idlib and the downing of several drones in the province.
  • After that the “quiet coup” in Mali on 18 August.
  • Al-Naba documented the 18 August car-ramming attack in Berlin that injured six people, which Germany has confirmed was motivated by Islamist ideology, but IS did not claim this attack or even hint that it was theirs.
  • Al-Naba reported the comments of Iraq’s prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi during his 17 August interview with The Associated Press that the Iraqi government would continue to need American help to be able to resist the challenge of the Islamic State, and IS’s glee about this admission was doubled by Trump’s reiteration of his desire to get American troops out of Iraq—something the jihadists understand, and are exploiting in their tactical planning and propaganda.
  • The downing of a third Western drone in Niger was celebrated as a victory for the jihad, albeit apparently from a mechanical failure rather than shoot-down (God does work in mysterious ways). Al-Naba was particularly encouraged about this because bases for “Christian aircraft” have been established and there is U.S. intelligence assistance to the French in the Sahel, none of which seems to be doing much to further “their war against Islam”.
  • Finally, IS took note of the removal of Iraqi government officials in Basra after the assassination of several civilian activists.

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