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Over the past year or two, with the death of many senior leaders as well as al-Qa’ida’s longing for religious legitimacy, Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan (Abū Zayd al-Kūwaytī) has risen in the ranks and has been described by Jarret Brachman as “Zawahiri’s in-house version of Awlaki” and by Christopher Anzalone as part of al-Qa’ida’s “missionary vanguard.” I would simply describe al-Husaynan as al-Qa’ida’s head of da’wah (the call to Islam/proselytization). Surprisingly, little has been written about al-Husaynan.

With the rise of Abu Yahya al-Libi from 2005-2008 many saw al-Libi as a potential Bin Ladin successor or at least al-Qa’ida’s main religious mouthpiece. Indeed, al-Libi has touched upon religious areas and performed al-Qa’ida’s khutabahs for ‘Id al-Fitr and ‘Id al-Adha, but al-Libi has also been a figure that discussed political issues just as much as religious ones. In contrast, al-Husaynan more or less has stuck to purely religious topics, not mixing his lectures with political overtones. This is important to note because many in the Muslim and non-Muslim world have questioned al-Qa’ida’s Islamic character (and not to mention the fact that 9 in 10 individuals al-Qa’ida has killed over the years have been Muslims) and bona fides. As such, one could argue that al-Husaynan is al-Qa’ida’s answer to its critics by showcasing a purely religious side of its media releases. In 2010, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, al-Husaynan released twenty-eight lessons related to religious life that one should ponder during Ramadan. Similarly, in April 2011, al-Husaynan began a series of “Da’wah Lectures” dealing with similar purely religious topics. For instance, the most recent was “Lecture 12: The Virtues of the Night Prayer.”

Besides his lectures though, not much is known about al-Husaynan’s background besides that he is from Kuwait and was a religious teacher employed by Kuwait’s Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs. As such, Issue #7 of Hitin’s Urdu Magazine (translated by Flashpoint Partners into English) that interviewed al-Husaynan sheds more light on his background, religious upbringing, reason for joining al-Qa’ida, and general worldview.

Background and Education

To begin the interview, Hitin Urdu Magazine describes al-Husaynan as “responsible for the religious training and the salvation of the soldiers of the al- Qa’ida network.” This provides a little more knowledge, besides his online media releases, what his actual role is in al-Qa’ida Central. The magazine then asks about al-Husaynan’s background. He was born in 1966 putting al-Husaynan at the age of 45 or 46 depending what month his birthday is in. In terms of key jihadi events, al-Husaynan was in his teens during the anti-Soviet jihad, early twenties during the Gulf war, and in his mid-thirties during 9/11 and the beginning of the Iraq war. Al-Husaynan continued by stating:

[I was] raised in such a household that gave special attention to the knowledge of religion. Our father regularly trained us to pray in a congregation. This was the time when I was admitted into a madrassah that was superior to others when it came to the education of Islamic laws. Then I went to the Arabian Peninsula where I completed my religious studies from a famous institution.

Al-Husaynan does not mention the specific institution, but he later remarks that he started his religious studies in 1986 and focused on Islamic theology and jurisprudence. He mentions he studied under Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymin for three years. Therefore, al-Husaynan most likely attended Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University, which was where al-Uthaymin was on the faculty of Shari’ah. Al-Uthaymin, along with ‘Abd al ‘Aziz ibn Baz and Muhammad Nasir ad-Din al-Albani, all three of whom passed away between 1999 and 2001, are considered three of the most eminent Salafi scholars of the modern era. Additionally, al-Husaynan stated he also studied for three years under Shaykh Sulayman bin Nasir al ‘Alwan, who is considered a favorite cleric of individuals that sympathize and support al-Qa’ida’s worldview. In the second edition of “A Mujahid’s Bookbag,” a collection of works that are recommended for jihadis to read on the online forums, al ‘Alwan’s works were listed in it 101 times, making him one of the top five ideologues in the “bookbag.” On a side note, al-Husaynan only had three works listed in the second edition (released in December 2009), while he had forty-three in the third and most recent edition (released in June 2011), further illustrating al-Husaynan’s rise in significance over the past few years (in contrast, Abu Yahya al-Libi went from 25 to 32 to 45 works listed in the three editions). As such, al-Husaynan was schooled in the orthodox Salafi school of thought by al-Uthaymin, as endorsed by the Saudi state, but was also exposed to more radical interpretations of Salafism when studying under al ‘Alwan.

Teaching Back in Kuwait

The Hitin Urdu Magazine interview then moves onto questions related to his time back in Kuwait when he begins to teach. Al-Husaynan states his main motivation for calling individuals to Islam is based on this saying from God: “Who else has better words to say than the one who invites people towards God, do good deeds and say, no doubt, I am from amongst the Muslims.” His style in teaching is also touched upon. Some have noticed and described al-Husaynan in his video lectures for al-Qa’ida as cartoonish. Based on the interview, he believes it is a helpful way to grab the attention of the youth (emphasis mine):

The main focus of our proselytizing and training were the youths. And because most of the youngster do not come to masjid (mosque) to offer their prayers, we would go to the colleges and universities to deliver sermons there. We would present to them incentives and deterrents in the style, which Qur’an adopts. To get their attention and in turn change their thinking we would first make them get familiar to us. For this purpose, we would joke and get funny during our speeches. And the truth of the matter is that once a person starts loving someone, he accepts what he is told and is also influenced easily. That’s why we would converse with them in an exciting way. We would make them laugh and kid around with them. Thank God this method was very effective on the youth.

During his time in Kuwait, al-Husaynan also states that he prepared pamphets for da’wah, providing some examples: (1) More than 1000 day-to-day practices of the Prophet; (2) More than 1000 day-to-day prayers; (3) Answers to 1000 problems of the women; (4) How do we get to the destinations of Allah’s people; (5) This is how good and pious are supposed to be; and (6) How are you preparing for your reckoning?

Entering the Fields of Jihad

According to the interview with Hitin Urdu Magazine, al-Husaynan decided to go to Afghanistan to join with the “mujahidin” sometime in 2007 (1427 H). He felt obliged and points to this edict from God that finally pushed him:

Oh Prophet [Muhammad], tell them that if you fear for the loss of your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your families, the goods that you earned and your trade, and if these are the things that are more dear to you that fighting in the way of your God (jihad fi sabil Allah) and His Prophet [Muhammad], then wait until calamity from God arrives on you. And God does not bring unrighteous to the right path.

Al-Husaynan further explains his reasoning for going to Afghanistan: “jihad in the name of God is more important to me than anything else. And these can’t be achieved through talk, sermonizing or listening to sermons, but by illustrating through sacrifices, self-giving, migration and jihad.” Therefore, although he felt his teaching methods were reaching the youth of Kuwait, apparently it was not enough. Moreover, al-Husaynan believes that “jihad is the shortest way of reaching heaven so we give our lives for it, and become martyrs in the path of God. With these thought I opted for the way of jihad and came here.” Thus another aspect for joining the “mujahidin” was to attain martyrdom and securing his spot in heaven.

The Take Away

The Hitin Urdu Magazine interview concludes with more politically oriented questions and boiler plate answers, which if one is interested in reading can be read in the above link to the interview. More importantly, the interview points to al-Husaynan having some legitimate religious bona fides compared to Abu Yahya al-Libi’s, which are still shrouded in some mystery. It is no surprise then that al-Qa’ida is primarily using al-Husaynan in the role of the head of its da’wah (or religious outreach). Whether it will help with recruitment and recapturing its image as well as portraying itself as a truly Islamic movement that remains to be seen. For once in al-Qa’ida’s history, though, it has an individual in al-Husaynan that has the educational experiences and knowledge that could provide it at least nominal religious credibility. The jury is still out on if the damage has already been so excessive that it does not matter anymore. That said, in light of potential openings in Yemen and Syria, as well as the possibility of disappointment from failed expectations in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, al-Husaynan could provide al-Qa’ida the religious swagger it needs to gain sympathy from some newly or future disillusioned youth.

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This past Thursday, on February 16, a group of around twenty individuals claiming to be part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), released a video message to YouTube announcing the formation of a new battalion named the al-Bara’ ibn Malik Martyrs Brigade. It should be noted that during the Iraq war, al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) also named one of their battalions the al-Bara’ ibn Malik Martyrs Brigade. There is no definitive proof that the new battalion established by the FSA is connected with the old al-Qa’ida in Iraq networks. That said, one should be cognizant of the expansive facilitation networks there were for foreign fighters attempting to join the Iraq jihad in Syria.

There are many layers to unpack from the video itself as well as the name chosen for the martyr brigade and its potential illusions.

With the recent revelations that al-Qa’ida was allegedly behind a series of suicide bombings in Syria over the past few months, along with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s recent video giving support to the Syrian “mujahidin;” much worry has risen over the specter of al-Qa’ida influencing and/or hijacking the opposition movement in Syria that hopes to topple Bashar al-Asad and his current regime.

The Flags

Many will point to the flag in the background used in the above video as a sign that these individuals are indeed al-Qa’ida since it looks strikingly similar to the one used by al-Qa’ida’s Islamic State of Iraq (For more background on al-Qa’ida’s use of flags and its context in Islamic history read here):

FSA background flag

Islamic State of Iraq's flag.

Islamic State of Iraq's flag.

Indeed, it is a worrying sign. At the same time, one should also note that in the above video, they also bear the old Syrian flag:

As such, for any student of al-Qa’ida and jihadism, the use of a Syrian flag shows direct support of a nationalist project, which is contrary to al-Qa’ida’s worldview. This is because the nation-states carved out were established not by God, but rather by the British and French. From this, one could posit that the al-Qa’ida looking flag used in the above video has become popularized to a broader audience then just a global jihadist one. More specifically, “the Che Guevara-ing” of the flag insofar as it has just become a symbol of resistance than necessarily a sign that the group has allegiance to al-Qa’ida. At the same time, the name used for the martyrs brigade (as AQI did, too) may abrogate or disprove this potential theory.

Who is al-Bara’ ibn Malik?

Prior to discussing the significance of the name of the martyrs brigrade in the context of al-Qa’ida, it is worthwhile to delve into the figure al-Bara’ ibn Malik to try and better understand why the FSA (and AQI) would invoke this figures name. Ibn Malik was one of the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s sahabah (companions) and considered an ansar (supporter) from the tribe of Banu al-Khazraj since they established relations with Muhammad’s nascent movement of mu’minin (believers) following the hijra to Medina (originally Yathrib). Ibn Malik is the brother of the famous sahabi Anas ibn Malik, an aide to Muhammad and who is one of the major narrators of hadith.

al-Bara’ ibn Malik originally took part in the Battle of Yamamah, which was part of the Riddah (apostasy) wars following the death of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. After the ascension of Abu Bakr as-Sadiq as the first Caliph some tribes and individuals apostatsized from Islam and attempted to return to their original religious practices. Abu Bakr called for war against them leading to a series of battles in 632-634 CE/11-13 H. The Battle of Yamamah is most famous for the deaths of a large portion of Qur’anic reciters, which led Abu Bakr to start the codification of the Qur’an into a written mushaf, since beforehand the Qur’an was recited orally. In the latter part of the Battle of Yamamah, when the opposition forces led by Musaylimah (referred in Islamic historiography as al-Kadhab or the Liar) were beginning to lose the battle they hid behind a gated garden. Prior to launching an assault on the garden, al-Bara’ ibn Malik stated: “يا أهل المدينة، لا مدينة لكم اليوم، إنما هو الله، والجنة” or “Oh People of al-Madinah, there is no al-Madinah for you after this day. There is only Allah, then Paradise.” Ibn Malik was hoisted upon a fellow soldiers shield to try and jump over the gate, which he succeeded. He sustained wounds, but was able to break open the gate allowing the rest of the Muslim army to defeat Musaylimah’s men. The episode would later refer to the “Garden of Death.” Although Ibn Malik had injuries, he recovered and later fought and was “martyred” in the Battle of Tustar against the Persian Empire in 640 CE/19 H.

There are three key points that should be highlighted from the above description of al-Bara’ ibn Malik: (1) he had an important role in defeating “apostates;” (2) his quote from above shows his willingness for martyrdom in the face of tough odds; and (3) he fought against the Persian Empire, which although Persians were not Muslims or Shi’a for that matter at that time one can imagine the symbolism of Ibn Malik fighting against the Persians. Jihadis today describe Shi’a (many being Persian) today as rawafid (Dissenters/Defectors/Deserters), which is a derogatory term, and do not believe they are true Muslims.

Contextualizing al-Bara’ ibn Malik Martyrs Brigades Today

Returning to the modern context, in both cases (AQI and the FSA), the name of the martyrs brigade fits and alludes to the three points made above regarding the biography of Ibn Malik. Regarding the first point, in both Iraq and Syria the fighters believe they are fighting apostate regimes. In Iraq against the ascendent Shi’a Mahdi Army and newly formed majority Shi’a Iraqi government and in the case of Syria al-Asad’s Alawite regime (seen as a sect of Shi’a Islam and viewed as heretical by even non-jihadi Sunni Muslims). As for the second point, it is quite obvious that they are martyrdom brigades and are therefore willing to sacrifice themselves in the face of great odds. And thirdly, the Iranian government was viewed in the Iraq war as assisting the Shi’a militias, while in the current context in Syria, the al-Asad regime is a known proxy of the Iranian regime. As such, in a round about way, in both the Iraq and Syrian versions of the al-Bara’ ibn Malik Martyrs Brigades they would be fighting the “Persian Empire” similar to Ibn Malik himself.

General Concluding Remarks About the Current State of Jihadism in Syria

The establishment of the FSA’s al-Bara’ ibn Malik Martyrs Brigade should give pause to talk of blindly arming the FSA as an alternative to the failed resolutions in the UN Security Council. That said, it is believed the FSA is a loose confederation without much centralization and therefore this battalion is most likely independent and doing its own thing. With the news of the potential release of Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, the creation of a new local jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusrah, and reports of a foreign fighter from Kuwait being killed in Syria, it is clear Syria has become another important front in the jihadi war. The penetration of al-Qa’ida in Iraq into Syria and potential of foreign fighters arriving, should be watched closely. At the same time, ones support for the uprising to defeat the authoritarian al-Asad regime should not be looked at completely through the prism of al-Qa’ida nor should it preclude or discredit any attempts for supporting some elements within the opposition. There are certainly risks involved, but identifying and vetting elements within the Syrian opposition is something that needs to be further acted upon in a precise manner versus providing weapons haphazardly just because of horrific scenes of slaughter on YouTube that one views without fully thinking through the potential second and third order consequences.

Since last month’s free and fair elections in Tunisia, much of the focus has been on Ennahda’s victory, the formation of a new constitution-writing Constituent Assembly, and how to rebuild the shattered economy. Yet these important matters threaten to obscure another significant challenge to the country’s nascent democracy: Salafism. Although the extremist ideology has not yet taken root to the same degree as in Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states, the new openness in Tunisian society has allowed Salafi elements to widely propagate their message — one that undergirds the intellectual foundations of jihadism and, as such, poses a potential danger to the country’s stability. To counter this threat, Washington should consider engaging Tunisia’s new government on appropriate deradicalization and training efforts.

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia

One of the Salafi groups that has benefited from the country’s new openness is Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST). Founded in late April, a few months after the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime, the group is headed by spiritual leader Sheikh Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi. It also takes religious advice from popular Tunisian Salafist Sheikh al-Khatib al-Idrisi, who was imprisoned for several years during the Ben Ali era. AST is especially active in the working-class Bab al-Khadra neighborhood of Tunis, with members attending al-Kambes and Malik bin Anas Mosques and becoming involved with the local mosque committee.

Similar to the youth revolutionaries who led the Tunisian uprising, one of the key aspects of AST’s dawa (Islamic propagation) activities has been its ability to bypass the mainstream press and harness social media to bring its message to the masses. AST runs a blog and also has two Facebook pages, one for the group proper and the second for its media apparatus, al-Qairawan Media Foundation (QMF). Since April, when AST announced its presence online, the number of its postings has grown each month, as has its number of “friends.”

AST’s largest advocacy project has been raising awareness of the plight of Muslim prisoners, most notably Tunisians who fought with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) during its height in 2005-2007 and remain in Iraqi jails. The group has also demanded the release of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind religious leader of Egypt’s al-Gamaa al-Islamiyah who was convicted and imprisoned in the United States for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Abu Qatadah al-Filastini, al-Qaeda’s European spiritual leader currently serving time in Britain. In addition to holding peaceful sit-ins outside the Iraqi embassy in Tunis, AST has demonstrated in front of the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call for the release of a handful of its “brothers.”

The group also reveres Yosri bin Fakher Trigui (a.k.a. Abu Qadamah al-Tunisi), who was captured in Iraq in 2006 and executed last month for his role in the bombing of the Shiite tombs at Marqad al-Imamain al-Hadi and al-Askari. In fact, AST’s media outlet portrays him as a martyr, creating Photoshopped images of him overlaid with symbols glorifying his death, including the logo of the “Islamic State of Iraq,” AQI’s successor group. Additionally, AST’s Facebook page posted a music video placing Trigui among two other illustrious “martyrs,” Usama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And when his body was returned to Tunisia on November 23, the group played a prominent role in the funeral, which was attended by more than a thousand people, many of whom carried banners and placards with Islamic slogans. In a further indication of Trigui’s status, the premier online jihadist forum Shamukh al-Islam featured custom photos extolling his “martyrdom” on its front page for two weeks.

Against the Elections

Unlike the Salafi groups in Egypt that have decided to take part in elections, AST is far more doctrinal and purist in its interpretation of the Quran. As such, it opposes engaging in parliamentary politics and has not established a legal party. Indeed, in the lead-up to last month’s elections, it distributed literature warning Tunisians against voting, which it depicted as an infringement on God’s sovereignty. For example, one of the brochures, “The Idol of Democracy,” implicitly referred to engagement in democracy as a polytheistic act. And the day before the vote, AST wrote a stern warning to Islamists participating in the election, declaring that they would regret their actions on the Day of Resurrection.

In addition, the group tried to deter potential voters by reposting fatwas and videos from popular Salafi-jihadist sheikhs arguing against democracy. For example, it highlighted an edict by Sheikh Abu al-Mundher al-Shanqiti — a member of the sharia committee of Menbar al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad (The Pulpit of Monotheism and Jihad), the premier online resource for Salafi-jihadist intellectual materials — proclaiming the un-Islamic character of democratic elections. It also highlighted Shanqiti’s fatwa against Ennahda, characterizing the Islamist party’s program as a violation of tawhid (monotheism), describing its secretary-general Rachid Ghannouchi and his “ilk” as heretics, and declaring that Ennahda’s positions on jihad, dhimmis (protected peoples e.g., Christians and Jews), kuffar (infidels), women, and music all “pollute” Islam.

Nonviolent Jihadists?

Although AST has not engaged in violence, it clearly sympathizes with al-Qaeda’s worldview. In addition to posting content from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and prominent online adherents such as Hani al-Sibai, the group has also explicitly promoted the terrorist network’s jihadist cause. For example, during last month’s Eid al-Adha holiday, AST released a statement congratulating the “mujahedin” of the Afghan Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Caucasus Emirate, the Islamic Maghreb Emirate, and “loved ones” in Somalia. The group also asked God “to grant victory to the mujahedin, raise the word of Islam, and bring together Muslims and rout the enemies of Islam, like the Jews, Christians, atheists, and apostates.”

Indeed, AST’s program is similar to those of al-Muhajiroun in Britain and Revolution Muslim in the United States, insofar as they promote a radical interpretation of Islam without explicitly endorsing violence. Yet actions such as attacking secular students and taking the dean of the University of Manouba hostage on November 28 for banning the veil suggest that Tunisia’s Salafis are becoming more brazen in their attempts to change the country. In the coming months, then, the new government will need to begin the process of containing Salafism alongside the tasks of writing the new constitution and reviving the economy. Left unchecked, Salafist trends could destabilize the nascent transition from authoritarianism to democracy.

For Washington, this challenge provides an opportunity to engage Tunis on security and deradicalization in the context of a democratic Arab state. It also provides a good barometer for determining the extent to which Ennahda is willing and able to transform into a truly moderate Islamic political party.

After writing my post on Libya, AQIM, and the spotting of a flag that appeared to be al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s (AQI) hanging over a court building in Benghazi there has been much written over the past few days regarding this flag as well as one waved at a rally also held in Libya that showed the Islamic State of Iraq’s (AQI’s successor group) flag.[1] Earlier this morning, it sparked an interesting debate between Ed Husain and Will McCants on Twitter. The flags in question were the following two:

al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s flag. This was the one that appeared on top of the court house in Benghazi.

Islamic State of Iraq’s flag.

Husain contended that one should not describe this flag as an “al-Qa’ida flag,” stating: “By calling it AQ flag we give them what is not theirs. The Prophet used those colours in his raids against pagans.” On the other hand, McCantsargued that Muhammad may have used similar colors (i.e. black and white), but no other Islamic movement uses the exact same styled flag as the Islamic State of Iraq. Husain mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) as a counter example, yet that does not hold up to scrutiny, see:

Hizb ut-Tahrir’s flag

Indeed, in the case of the AQI and HuT flags they both use black as the background and contain theshahada (Islamic testament of faith: ‘There is no God, but God; and Muhammad is the Messenger of God’). While the Islamic State of Iraq’s only has the first half of the shahada at the top while on the bottom is the seal that Muhammad used in official documents. They all differ a bit though since they have different styled typeface. Further, if one were to contend as Husain did that “we” are giving al-Qa’ida something that is not theirs then we should look back and see what flags the Muslim prophet Muhammad actually used as well as the Rashidun Caliphate, Ummayad Caliphate, and the Abbasid Caliphate.

Muhammad used two flags depending on the type of raid or battle he was in. One was a solid white flag while the main flag he used was a solid black flag called rāyat al ‘uqāb (flag of the eagle). Neither flag had markings or symbols. The black flag derived from Muhammad’s tribe Quraysh’s flag, which was called the same thing, but actually did have an eagle on it. Muhammad’s two flags would have looked as follows:

Muhammad’s black flag

Muhammad’s white flag

Following the death of Muhammad, the Rashidun Caliphate continued to use Muhammad’s black flag as seen above. The Ummayad’s used the white flag in both Damascus and al-Andalus. Whereas the Abbasids used the black flag once more. As such, if one looks at early Islamic history there is no connection to the flag that al-Qai’da in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq adopted. Of course the Islamic State of Iraq uses the shahada on its flag to try and show Islamic legitimacy. The Islamic State of Iraq also incorporated the seal that Muhammad used in official correspondance:

Muhammad’s seal

That said, it does not necessarily mean one cannot state that the Islamic State of Iraq’s flag is not the al-Qa’ida flag since no one has ever used that specific design, typeface, and set up in the history of Islam.

[1] According to Leah Farrall, the Islamic State of Iraq’s flag was first designed and flown by the original al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, which was located in Saudi Arabia in the early 2000s. It was popularized, though, by the Islamic State of Iraq.

Last week, Ansar al-Shari’ah, (Supporters of Shari’ah), based in Yemen, released its first video titled “The Opening [Conquests] of Zinjibar.” Since mid-April, many analysts and scholars have wondered where this apparently new group came from, who its members were, and what connections it has to al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The name Ansar al-Shari’ah was first mentioned in an unofficial audio release by AQAP’s leading shari’ah official, Shaykh Abu Zubayr ‘Adil bin ‘Abdullah al-Abab, who conducted a question and answer session with online global jihadi activists through PalTalk in Ghorfah Minbar al-Ansar (Pulpit Room of the Supporters). The first question was “What is the general situation of the mujahidin in Yemen and the status of the Shabab Ansar al-Shari’ah?” al-Abab responded that when they recruit new members to AQAP, they first introduce themselves under the banner of Ansar al-Shari’ah. But why would they need to do that? Has the AQ brand really become that tarnished? And is Ansar al-Shari’ah really AQAP?

Some have been skeptical of links between AQAP and Ansar al-Shari’ah. While conclusive evidence is lacking, there are several strong indicators. Ansar al-Shari’ah’s first video release, which was not published by AQAP’s media outlet al-Malahim (the Epics), highlighted “martyrs” who were also eulogized in the most recent issue of AQAP’s Inspire Magazine — Abu ‘Ali al-Harithi, ‘Ali bin Salih bin Jalal and ‘Amar ‘Abadah al-Wa’ili. Although this is not proof of collusion, there clearly seems to be some overlap. Ansar al-Shari’ah may be a subsidiary of AQAP used for recruitment and foot soldiers in Yemen’s incipient civil war. It is telling that AQAP may be recruiting individuals using a different name.

We have also recently learned that Usama bin Laden may have been looking to change the name of al-Qa’ida central. According to press reports based on leaked information from the raid that killed bin Laden, al-Qai’da’s central leadership in Pakistan was debating a couple of options for its name. This was spurred in part by the Western habit of referring to the group as al-Qa’ida, rather than its official name of Tandhim Qa’idat al-Jihad (The Base Organization of Jihad). The leadership felt that the West’s habit of omitting the word “jihad” robbed them of some of their religious legitimacy. Unfortunately for al-Qa’ida, the two alternative names on the table were a mouthful – Ta’ifat at-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (Sect of Monotheism and Jihad) and Jama’at ’I‘adat al-Khilafah al-Rashidiyyah (Restoration Group of the Rashidun Caliphate). Ultimately, they decided to stick with Tandhim Qa’idat al-Jihad.

The name game isn’t new. al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) attempted to rehabilitate its image following the death of its leader,  the notorious butcher Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, in 2006. AQI changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) as a way of rebranding itself because many Iraqis were repulsed by the organization’s overuse of violence, as well as the perception that it was made up of foreigners. The latter is also the reason they announced Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi, a purported Iraqi, as their new leader, although it has been disputed whether he was actually a real person. In the years since, the name change has not done much for AQI’s credibility. It remains a threat, but is a shadow of its former self.

Another place where naming is an issue is in Somalia, where Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin (The Movement of the Holy Warrior Youth) has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden but has not changed its name to become an al-Qa’ida franchise. Leah Farrall recently wrote an excellent overview on this topic in the most recent issue of the CTC Sentinel. Although it is a great addition to the literature, there were also other explanations for the lack of formal name change. Reportedly, al-Qa’ida itself opposed the name change because it did not want al-Shabab to sully its so-called “street cred” by using its polarizing brand. It is difficult to ascertain whether these reports are credible. But the very discussion shows the growing pitfalls of the al-Qa’ida brand.

All told, the al-Qa’ida brand is not favorable anymore – even for its senior leadership. It’s a big problem if AQAP is able to recruit more individuals by rejecting the brand and taking on a name with more religious significance.[1]

Even if the brand name is discredited, AQ’s ideas still resonate with many, especially if it can be repackaged for local contexts, as in the apparent case of AQAP. As we have seen in the past, AQ is a very nimble organization that learns, evolves, and quickly adapts to a rapidly changing “battlefield.” It would be wise for our policy makers and government officials to heed these subtle changes in its counterterrorism strategies. Otherwise, we are fighting an imaginary enemy, one that only exists in our minds or that existed in 2001 or 2008, but not in 2011.

 


[1] Ansar or the supporters played an important role in early Islamic history when the Muslim prophet Muhammad was still preaching and calling people to Islam. Ansar were the individuals in Medina that helped Muhammad and his followers following its hijra from Mecca. Therefore, the use of the term Ansar acts as a strong link to the past that appeals to the average Muslim. Further, when attaching it to the Shari’ah, which has primacy in the lives of religious Muslims, Ansar al-Shari’ah becomes a catchy and useful name that is stronger in Islamic terms than Tandhim Qa’idat al-Jihad.

NOTE: Older quotes are first. Newest quotes toward the bottom of this post. This post was last updated 5/2/11 9:10PM US Central time.

“How sound is the news of the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden?”

“O Allah, make this news not true”

“Allah protect us in our loss”

“God willing, news is not true. Catastrophic if it is authentic.”

“O Lord for your kindness”

“May Allah increase you rank in Jannah o Sheikh Usamah!”

“Ameen AMEEN AMEEN! May Allah give you a place next to our beloved Prophet (saws), ameen ameen”

“Please everyone calm and pray”

“We ask God to be the news is not true Lord of the Worlds”

“God damn you, Obama”

“Shut up and delete this thread”

“I think the Americans are doing this to make a good excuse for leaving Afg this year.”

“I hope with tears in my eyes that it is false. But if it is the will of Allah(swt) then may Allah(swt) grant the Sheikh ul Mujahideen, the status of a Shaheed and a place in Jannat ul Firdaus..”

“Inna li Allahi wa inna ilaihi raaji’oon. May Allah forgive his sins and raise him to the ranks of greatest Shuhada in the modern history of Islam.Ameen”

“Jihad will not stop because of Sheikh’s death, it will continue until we gain victory.”

“Kullna osama bin laden kullna osama bin laden kullna osama bin laden”

“I’m with Osama either in winning a victory or earning status as a martyr”

“May Allah accept his martyrdom and enter him into al-Firdaws with the Ambiya, Shuhada and the Saliheen.This day is the greatest day of shame in the history of Pakistan and what dignity had been left in calling oneself a Pakistani has now gone. Wallahi if the people of Pakistan keep on tolerating the kufr and riddah of that filthy kafir Zardari after this day, then may Allah deal with them as He sees fit.However, not all is so bad. Events like this are sent by Allah to remove the munafiqeen from the ranks of the Muslims. In the aftermath of this, we’ll see many munafiqeen, including ‘scholars’, come out in happiness and support for the Americans.Good news for Osama inshallah and good results for this Ummah inshallah.”

“This has not been confirmed by the Mujahideen what ever the out come Usamah bin Laden is the most influencial man of our times and May Allah accept all his sacrifices ameen”

“If it is true then we must thank Allah that America was not able to capture him alive. Else they would be humiliating him like Saddam Hussain. At last he may have find his greatest desire of Shahada.”

“Think not of those killed in the way of Allah dead, but alive with the Lord. We consider him a martyr. O Allah, accept the martyrs. And join us by the Lord of the Worlds”

“Brothers and sisters the order to attack the shaykh didn’t come from Obama, it came from Allah SWT and we should be aware that Allah SWT has the power to obliterate the White House in no time. So have yaqeen in Allah SWT because today the kufaar celebrate but tomorrow the ash of their fitna will block out their joy.”

“It seems obama has secured his seat in the white for the next term. This week only, he proved the world he was born in america by releasing his birth certificate and now he killed america’s worst enemy.”

“The celebrations are amusing. Cheer all you want kuffar, you only have a limited amount of time in this dunya in which to do it. And then you will see the reality of this life.”

“I hope Allah sends them [an] earthquake that will choke them further”

“And if its true it would be the most shameful moment for the pakistani people who could not protect 1 muslim hero…its a black day and a day when we should keep our voices and gazes lowi personally feel the lowest i have ever felt, we couldnt protect our beloved Sheikh”

“Mashallah the whole nation is celebrating the death of one man. Shaykh osama was a true lion.”

“We renew our pledge of allegiance with the Covenant and the first with the Lord to continue our path until the end. We will continue .. We will continue .. We will continue ..”

“Coming Oh America; Coming Oh Jews, Coming Oh rejectionists (Shi’a); Coming Oh Kufar, secularists, and apostates. Arrivals are coming and they are bringing the coffins with merciless devices”

“May Allah bring thousands osama to give nusra to his deen”

“Ya ikhwati wa akhawati, hold your horses. No conclusion should be derived until we get word from Muslims who are affiliated with him and who can confirm so. No words should be taken from the enemies of Islam and Muslims. They faked so many videos in the past of him, so why can this not be one of them? Just look at those beer-drinking, hog-eating, incestuous, red-necks, uncle sams, house negros, vatos locos, all celebrating outside the White House. It’s like a holiday for them. Really a sad bunch of people. I’m just waiting for the Chocolaty Muslims, Talafies, and those borderline murtad/moderates to join the ugly bandwagon of cheering this so-called victory.”

“I dont get it. How come Shaykh was living next to militray area and he was not seen before. Seems like a plot of america to wage war on pk. Anyways, it will be good to see pk fighting america ….actually Excellent!”

“please let them celebrate, they are celebrating their own end.
osama is in the heart of every muslim, even those who dont admit publicly.
in sha Allah its the start of something. this is the day muslims will remember Allah alot and seek the destruction of this pharoanic nation of our time.
oh Allah destroy this nation for their hatred and enmity toward your deen
oh Allah seal their hearts with disbelief they shall never taste faith untill they taste your severe punishment.
oh Allah send them endless tornados to destroy their homes and earthquakes to crash them.”

“Why can’t people admit he was killed? he is a human being, not a prophet. another man will replace his shoes, its easy.”

“The kuffar can show only symbolic success. Militarily, the beaten, like the Russians in Chechnya. Whenever the Russians have claimed that Doku Umarov has fallen and he reported back again and again.”

“Death of the commander of the Mujahideen Sheikh Osama bin Laden – as he had wished – a new victory for the approach of the Islamic Jihad”

Anjem Choudary’s reaction to the death of Bin Laden. He’s the leader of UK jihadi group al-Muhajirun: http://bit.ly/jHyzTZ

“I think America knows that Sheikh Osama already passed away in recent years. Now they have planned to take advantage of his confirmed death. And they are taking advantage as US people have greatly appreciated the news. Also this news have pressurize the Pakistani intelligence that Osama was declared to be found in a sensitive settled area.”

“We should not forget that these illitarete idiots in the past have killed sheikh ayman zawahiri many times sheikh osama and cmdr ilyas kashmiri in their dream. Let the kuffar and murtadeen keep dreaming.”

“Yes, the Covenant continues until the establishment of the law of God in the land”

“We are all Osama bin Laden, God willing; We are all Osama bin Laden, God willing; We are all Osama bin Laden, God willing; We are all Osama bin Laden, God willing”

New statement from Hānī al-Sibā’ī: “Congratulations Osama .. Woe Obama .. And Woe to the Traitors of Pakistan”

“Si la nouvel est vrai ,mon coeur sera plus que jamais brisé par cette nouvel , mais j’ai moi aussi le sentiment que cela est vrai , car il ont annoncer qu’il détenait le corps du Cheikh ( Allahou A’lem ) et ces derniers temps , je ne sais pas si ça explique cet nouvel , mais je faisait un rêve quasiment toujours le même ou je perdais mes dents et ou j’avais une barbe encore plus grosse que d’habitude , j’ai fait des recherches on m’a dit que cela signifiais la mort la mienne ou celle d’un proche , je sais que cheikh Oussama n’est pas un proche au sens propre mais je l’aime pour Allah énormément comme s’il faisait partie de ma propre famille voir plus.”

“En tout cas s’il était vraiment vivant et que les amerloques l’ont vraiment tué, je pense que hervé ghesquière et stéphane taponier ont du soucis à se faire…”

“If Osama is martyred then we are all Osama. And the march of struggle will inevitably continue.”

“I’ll cut the head of everyone who says Sheikh Osama is dead”

New Elegy from Ḥāmid Bin ‘Abdullah al ‘Alī: “To the Lion Shaykh Usāmah Bin Lāden, God Have Mercy”

“After the news of the killing of the Sheikh a sharp drop in oil prices and gold and silver. U.S. stock market is witnessing an unprecedented profit. How much are you [worth], O great Osama? Blessed, living and dead. What if all the heads of Arabs killed in one day were influenced by oil prices? Gold? Silver? The stock market?”

“The absence of trophy photos, like they had with zarqawi and saddam hussein’s sons, is highly suspicious.”

“Agggh!!! This news on TV is annoying. These sell out Muslims really piss me off. I hope that Allah (swt) raises them with their community of shaytaan who they chose to side with, make friends with and obey instead of His (swts) law in the duniyah. May these sell outs also be thrown into the lowest depths of Hell with no respite.”

“The denial of the Pakistani Taliban has been relayed by the Russian news agency, so nothing prevents us from asserting that denial. Since when Mujahideen use the Russian news agency to connect?”

“My father woke me with this news, I had tears…The worst is when I saw the Kuffar celebrate on TV, I felt lousy”

“The killing of Sheikh Osama bin Laden does not affect the progress of victory, God willing. After the death of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, Jihad did not stop. And went on…….. And went on……… And went on ………”

“God willing, it’s a lie and we should not rush in denying news media organizations patience patience. We do not believe them and will not believe, but our media only.”

“al-Qaeda are the people of the Victorious Sect, which recognizes the last of the banner to the Mahdi”

“Jihad will continue until the Day of Resurrection”

“If it is authentic [that] Osama [died], indiscriminate killing is the solution, is the solution, is the solution.”

“Sheikh Bin Laden is not dead! What a farce from the Tawaghit!!”

“Hope that this act will not go unpunished.”

“We have our horror when we heard of the way in which knowledge of the place of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. It has been suggested that the Guantanamo prisoner [KSM] is [the] one who gave the information that led to access to the martyed sheikh … It has already happened [before] … one ex-Guantanamo prisoner led to the achievement of discovering the operations of the parcel bombs launched by the Mujahideen brothers in Yemen. Similarly, in a number of things [it also] led to the deaths of many of the Mujahideen. Are Guantanamo prisoners disclosing the secrets of jihad and the mujahideen? … Are the Mujahideen in danger?”

_____

Sources:

http://as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37753

http://aljahad.com/vb/showthread.php?t=5011

http://www.ansar1.info/showthread.php?t=32988

http://as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37755

http://forums.islamicawakening.com/f18/osama-bin-laden-killed-45497/

http://www.jhuf.net/showthread.php?10461-shaikh-osama-shaheed(hifzullah-alah)

https://www.islambruederschaft.com/blog/?p=3364

https://dawaalhaq.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B4%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%AE-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D9%86/

http://www.ansar-alhaqq.net/forum/showthread.php?t=12709

http://www.aljahad.com/vb/showthread.php?t=5032

http://www.as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37853

http://www.as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37860

http://forums.islamicawakening.com/f18/taliban-says-shaykh-osama-alive-unconfirmed-news-45502/index2.html

http://www.as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37884

http://www.as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37892

http://www.as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37925

http://www.as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37932

http://www.as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=37946