Among the documents recovered from Usama bin Ladin’s compound in Abbottabad was the “Letter to Karim”, dated 18 October 2007. “Karim” likely refers to Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), the leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM), the predecessor organization to the Islamic State, after the group’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), was killed in June 2006. The letter is reproduced below with some interesting details highlighted in bold. Continue reading
The forty-fifth edition of the Islamic State’s “Distinguished Martyrs” series, published by al-Furqan Media in Rajab 1431 (June/July 2010), profiled Abu Zahra al-Issawi, the media emir or information minister of the organization between some point after July 2007, when Khalid al-Mashadani (Abu Zayd al-Mashadani) was arrested, and some point before September 2009, when Ahmad al-Ta’i was announced as holding the position. Continue reading
Muhammad Shakar had, according to his martyr biography, “become influenced by Salafism in 1997-98 while serving as a part of [Saddam] Hussein’s Special Republican Guard”. Quitting the military and returning to his home in Mosul, Shakar was harassed by the regime until he went to join Ansar al-Islam in the mountains of Kurdistan.
Shakar, known as Abu Talha al-Ansari or Abu Talha al-Mawsuli, joined the predecessor to Islamic State either just before or just after Saddam fell, and he was arrested in Mosul on 14 June 2005. Continue reading
The Iraqi Kurdish authorities arrested Mustafa Haji Muhammad Khan (Hassan Ghul) on 23 January 2004. Khan had been dispatched to Iraq by Nashwan Abdulbaqi (Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi), one of the key military officials of al-Qaeda “central” (AQC), to function as AQC’s intermediary with Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the founder of the Islamic State movement. Khan replaced Abdallah al-Kurdi, the first envoy sent by Abdulbaqi. Al-Kurdi had failed to establish any footing to do his job effectively, but Khan, a battle-hardened jihadist from Baluchistan, earned a measure of respect from al-Khalayleh and facilitated a productive conversation between AQC and al-Khalayleh. Al-Khalayleh, possessed of a pathological anti-Shi’ism, wrote a seventeen-page memo to Usama bin Ladin explaining his strategy to defeat the Americans by starting a total war between the sects in Iraq. That memo, in digital form, was given to Khan, and Khan had it in his possession when he was captured. The letter was translated and publicized by the State Department, and is reproduced below with minor editions for clarity and some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading
The Islamic State’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), took the anti-Shi’ism within jihadi-salafism, and moved it to ideological centre-stage in his campaign to implement a shari’a regime in Iraq. In a speech on 18 May 2005, “The Return of Ibn al-Alqami’s Grandchildren”, al-Khalayleh cast the Shi’a as the internal enemies of Islam. Al-Alqami, a Shi’a, was the vast vizier of the Abbasid caliphate and allegedly opened the gates to allow the Mongols to sack Baghdad in 1258. In al-Khalayleh’s telling, the Iraqi Shi’a repeated this in 2003 by welcoming the Americans—a piece of sectarian incitement first used by Saddam Husayn. Al-Khalayleh makes reference to Shi’a figures conspiring in the American project for a New Iraq, something unalterably opposed not only by al-Khalayleh but most Iraqi Sunnis and their “resistance” groups, who objected to their loss of primacy in the aftermath of Saddam, flatly rejecting the demographic facts of Iraq that grant them a smaller share of power than they feel is their due. This political grievance is secondary to al-Khalayleh, however. Al-Khalayleh advances a cosmic, theological argument. To al-Khalayleh, the existence of the Shi’a is a standing affront to the “true” faith and a temptation for Sunnis to fall into apostasy, and since the need to defend the faith itself is above the protection of human life, the shedding of the blood of Shi’a civilians licit. This is the intellectual universe in which al-Khalayleh and his successors dwell. Excerpts from the speech are republished below. Continue reading
The most recent issue of Perspectives on Terrorism had a paper by Ronen Zeidel entitled, ‘The Dawa’ish: A Collective Profile of IS Commanders’, which was “the first attempt to provide a comprehensive collective profile of commanders and leaders of the Islamic State (IS)”. Based on “an inventory of over 600 names”, the paper assessed the nationality, ethnicity, and tribal origins not just of the very senior IS commanders, but those lower down, a novel and much-needed line of investigation. Zeidel found that these commanders of the IS movement are or were overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni Arab, with an important Turkoman contingent.
Zeidel’s findings are important for drawing attention again to the local-revolutionary character of an organisation that gets a great deal of attention for its foreign fighters and external attacks, especially in the West, but which only a recently acquired global reach—and, indeed, only recently needed to: until 2011, the West was easily reachable since it had troops on the ground in Iraq, so the incentive to invest resources in creating a foreign terrorist apparatus was minimal.
One small part of Zeidel’s work has created something of a storm, however. Zeidel gives the occupation held by these commanders and, for those where this was known, 72% of them were former regime elements (FREs) from the dictatorship of Saddam Husayn. This reignited the argument over how important the FREs have been to IS. Continue reading
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. Continue reading