Osama bin Laden’s death in May 2011 did little to diminish the threat posed by jihadist groups like al-Qaeda. “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it” was the ‘fatwa’ issued by bin Laden in 1998. Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, the aging Egyptian Islamic theologian who leads al-Qaeda today, is having difficulty controlling the newly formed Islamist affiliates.
Tag Archives | Jihadists
Apparently ISIS is a business, a bloody and illegal business, sort of like the Mafia. That’s what I gleaned from a McClatchy report by Hannah Allam on the group’s finances, revealed at least by a trove of documents captured by the US, turned over to RAND a few months ago, whose conclusions leaked into the public sphere today. “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria sprang from a largely self-funded, corporation-style prototype whose resilience to counterterrorism operations was proven by the time Abu Bakr al Baghdadi assumed command in 2010,” Allam reports.
Charles Dudley Warner’s oft-quoted suggestion that “politics makes strange bedfellows” is never better illustrated than the prospect of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States. Stimulated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) rapid military advances in Iraq, both sides find themselves on the same side – albeit for vastly different reasons.
The overriding question is how will the U.S. clearly define moderate opposition groups operating in Syria? That has become a major difficulty as well in Libya. Rebel groups break down into tribes, clans, and broader religious factions—some with fundamentalist beliefs, while others have a more radical interpretation of Islam which includes armed jihad. In any event we do not know their ultimate goals. A Muslim diplomat once told me it is difficult to know the mission of a person carrying a weapon: “When they come, they also bring their behavior with them. There is one baggage that doesn’t weigh much–it is the behavior that is inside of them–the behavior in their mind–the attitude that they have. We can search their pockets for weapons–and see the one’s on their shoulders–but we cannot search their mind.”
Syria over the last three years has been in a chaotic civil war in which no one has clearly defined the “moderate” opposition that could rule democratically, if we take out President Bashar al-Assad. I have written articles suggesting, “regime change without an endgame plan is fraught with disaster,” as we witnessed in Libya after the U.S.-NATO incursion in 2011 that led to the downfall of the ruler Col. Muammar Gadhafi. Armed Islamist militias have since taken over large swaths of the country.
I unfriended another Facebook friend this week. It may seem to be a trivial matter, but for me, it is not.
The reason behind my action was Syria. As in Egypt, Syria has instigated many social media breakups with people whom, until then, were regarded with a degree of respect and admiration. But this is not a social media affair. The problems lie at the core of the Syrian conflict, with all of its manifestations, be they political, sectarian, ideological, cultural, or intellectual. While on the left (not the establishment left of course) Palestine has brought many likeminded people together, Egypt has fragmented that unity, and Syria has crushed and pulverized it to bits.
Those who cried over the victims of Israeli wars on Gaza, did not seem very concerned about Palestinians starving to death in the Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. Some squarely blamed the Syrian government for the siege that killed hundreds, while others blamed the rebels. Some writers even went further, blaming the residents of the camp. Somehow, the refugees were implicated in their own misery and needed to be collectively punished for showing sympathy to the Syrian opposition.
As terrorist attacks go, it was as shocking for its scale and its choice of target: on April 14, at least 200 people were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in the Nigerian town of Chibok.
More than a week later, the whereabouts of hundreds of young women remain a mystery. Within local communities of Borno province there is much sympathy for parents, but not a huge degree of shock. For this is just the latest in a series of attacks blamed on one outfit: Boko Haram. To understand the kidnapping, we have to look at the terror group’s history, how it was formed, and how its ideology developed. Boko Haram has made itself notorious with a long campaign of bombings and mass murders across Nigeria, often in concert with other Islamist groups.
However, to properly understand the group, we have to look at the terrorist group’s history, how the group was formed, and how its ideology developed. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, a 30-year-old man called Muhammad Yusuf founded a new religious preaching group in Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria’s Borno State, and gave it the Arabic name “Jamaat ahl as-Sunnah li ad-Dawah wa al-Jihad” (literally, “The Group of the People of Tradition and Call for Jihad”). This group would later become known in Hausa as “Boko Haram,” meaning “Western education is sinful.”
The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington published in February 2014 an analysis titled “The Reinvention of Al-Shabaab: A Strategy of Choice or Necessity?” by Matt Bryden, director of Sahan Research, a think tank located in Nairobi, Kenya.
In this excellent study, Bryden notes that al-Shabaab’s leadership was once relatively heterogeneous, including nationalist and politically pragmatic figures such as Hassan Dahir Aweys and Muktar Robow. There were differences within al-Shabaab over the value of a relationship with al-Qaeda, the wisdom of attacks on civilians, and the role of foreign fighters in the organization. Following a purge of the nationalists, what now remains of al-Shabaab is the more extremist fringe: an al-Qaeda franchise in Somalia, imbued with the “takfiri” ethos that legitimizes the killing of other Muslims, and recommitment to the cause of international jihad and the restoration of an Islamic caliphate.
With Al Qaeda’s presence growing in the Sinai, Egypt and Israel have stepped up joint bilateral security cooperation to deal with the threat.
Amidst the turmoil that has ensued throughout post-Mubarak Egypt, Al Qaeda (AQ) has established a stronghold in the Sinai from where jihadists routinely target Egypt and Israel. In turn, Egyptian and Israeli security forces have increased cooperation to address the Sinai’s security challenges, underscoring that the bilateral relationship remains intact. While in the longer term the direction of bilateral relations remains uncertain, in the near term Al Qaeda’s actions have strengthened security ties between Egypt and Israel. Al Qaeda’s actions in the Sinai and Levant have also served to enhance the likelihood that other governments in the region, such as Jordan and Turkey, will continue to cooperate with Israel on security–related issues.
An ‘Islamic Emirate’ between Egypt and Israel
Since Israel’s withdrawal from Egyptian territory in 1982, the Sinai has proven to be Egypt’s most ungovernable territory. The Mahahith Amn al-Dawla (MAD) — the highest internal security authority in Egypt — was responsible for ensuring law and order in the restive Sinai and cracking down on underground Islamist movements. Throughout Mubarak’s rule, the MAD prevented Islamist militants from successfully launching more than only a few attacks across the Egyptian-Israeli border. However, Mubarak’s fall led to the MAD’s dissolution, raising question about the Egyptian government’s capacity to effectively combat militant jihadist forces.
This month’s news that Mehdi Jomaa will serve as Prime Minister of a caretaker government bodes well for Tunisia’s democratic transition that had been derailed by six months of political brinksmanship.
While Tunisia has been spared the large-scale human rights abuses and chaotic turmoil of the other post-Arab Spring states, a growing al Qaeda presence threatens to destabilize the country and undermine the democratic aspirations that fueled the Jasmine Revolution. At this juncture it appears that both democrats and al Qaeda affiliated jihadists have similar potential to shape post-revolutionary Tunisia’s future, given the risk that the Mount Chaambi area (situated along the Algerian border) will continue to serve as a hub for international jihadist forces.
Under the authoritarian and staunchly secular regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s Islamists and members of the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood branch, Ennahda (Tunisia’s current ruling party), were routinely detained, tortured and executed under the ancien regime. Democratic and human rights activists were also targets of security force assassinations, beatings and death threats. As a result, Islamists have had a minimal impact on society. Although they were not a significant force behind the anti-regime demonstrations of January 2011, the post-revolutionary power vacuum has been partially filled by hard line Salafist currents. In Tunisia, the Salafists constitute a small group within the larger Islamist specter, yet they have proven capable of impacting the course of events in the post-Ben Ali period through violent and non-violent means.
Throughout the years, Lebanon’s demographics have experienced periodic influx. But particularly in the last two years, the demographic shift has been so overwhelming due to the flood of Syrian refugees in desperate need for shelter.
The situation is highly charged, if not perilous, considering Lebanon’s unmanageable sectarian balances, let alone the direct involvement of Lebanese parties in the brutal Syrian war. If not treated with utter sensitivity and political wisdom, Lebanon’s vastly changing demographics will not bode well in a country of exceedingly fractious sectarian politics. The numbers speak for themselves. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 790,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict. The number is constantly increasing, as an estimated 75,000 make the difficult journey from Syria to Lebanon every month.
Those refugees also include tens of thousands of Palestinians that have borne the brunt of the war in the last two years. In addition to approximately 250,000 Syrians working and living in Lebanon, the country already hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Palestine in several waves, starting with the Nakba, or Catastrophe in 1947-48. While the refugees were initially welcomed by their host country – as Syrians were initially welcomed in Lebanon – they eventually became a party in Lebanon’s war of numbers, as each sect was terrified by the prospect of losing political ground to their rivals.
In 2006, the Islamic Courts controlled Mogadishu and virtually all of south and central Somalia. While they enacted some highly controversial policies, they did reestablish authority in the regions under their control and many Somalis welcomed that stability.
The Transitional National Government (TNG) of Somalia, operating out of Nairobi, and neighboring Ethiopia, which had troops inside the Somali border and especially in Baidoa, perceived the Islamic Courts as a threat. At the end of 2006, the Islamic Courts’ militia made the mistake of attacking the Ethiopian forces in Baidoa, suffering a major defeat. Ethiopian forces, encouraged by the Somali TNG, then marched to Mogadishu and forced the leaders of the Islamic Courts to flee to the southern end of Somalia.
The presence of Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu was deeply resented by Somalis; their presence gave Somali Islamist elements and especially the new organization known as al-Shabaab a rallying cry for removing the Ethiopians. This posed a dilemma for the TNG, which did not have a security force capable of confronting al-Shabaab, and the Ethiopians, who had a strong force but were disliked by Somalis. Normally, this would be an occasion for establishing a UN peacekeeping operation, but the UN refused to get involved. This left the problem with the African Union, which agreed to send a force that became known as AMISOM to Somalia in support of the TNG.
Can it be assumed that Western governments are sincere that deterring the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons without overthrowing it is their main goal?
“France is ready to punish those who took the infamous decision to gas innocent people” in Syria, French President Francois Hollande asserted recently. Can anyone be certain that a “punitive” operation will not end up in an inter-state war which could engulf the larger region? A decision of this magnitude poses three major problems. The first is the legality of any “punitive” operation under international law. In the absence of a consensus in the United Nations Security Council, it seems that any military intervention will be undertaken most certainly without a UN mandate and be considered illegal under international law. It follows that the legal justification for intervention would more closely resemble the one used prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq than the 2011 intervention in Libya.
For want of UN support, the Americans and French emphasize the legitimacy of such an intervention and try to form the widest possible international coalition. Since the German and British governments have already opted out of being part of any such military intervention, the Arab League’s principled support and the participation of Arab or Muslim countries appears now an essential condition to provide a legal basis, at least for outside consumption. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are providing military and financial support to the “rebels,” could participate in a coalition, as could Turkey. However, these countries are too deeply involved in the Syrian crisis to lend credibility to such a coalition and, in fact, their direct participation could further inflame the crisis.
On August 15, a car bomb ripped through a Beirut suburb, killing 21 people.
The explosion was but the latest in a wave of attacks across Lebanon throughout 2012 and 2013 that were linked to events inside Syria. The ease with which violence in Iraq and Syria has negatively impacted surrounding countries underscores the declining significance of borders throughout the Levant. Sectarian and ethnic identities, rather than citizenship, are proving increasingly influential in shaping the political orientation of communities throughout the region. From Beirut to Baghdad, conservative Sunni Islamists wish to rid the Arab world of Iranian influence, weaken Hezbollah’s position, and restore Sunni rule to Iraq and Syria. Naturally, the Levant’s Shia and Alawite communities are unified in opposition to this agenda.
Amid these deepening regional divisions, a new opening has emerged for one of the Middle East’s longest-suffering minority groups: the Kurds. The shifting regional balance of power has enabled the Kurds to exercise greater control over their destiny. While the future is unpredictable, it is entirely plausible that Syria’s Kurds will maintain autonomy in northeastern Syria when the dust eventually settles. However, the ongoing war between jihadist and Kurdish militias over control of northern Syria—a conflict far less well known than the battle between Assad and the rest of the Syrian rebels—will likely lead to a major humanitarian catastrophe for Syria’s Kurds before any political gains can be consolidated.
A probable United States military strike against Syria has raised serious concerns about its consequences on the political and religious hegemony of the Middle East.
As the Syrian Civil War continues, thousands of Salafi-Jihadists from all over the world have been rushing to Syria to establish an Islamic state as the first step to founding a universal caliphate. On the other hand, Alawites who are the ruling minority in Syria are a sect in Shia Islam, and the Syrian government is the closest Arab ally of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Such political complications have led to a major conflict of interest in Syria between Shia and Sunni countries with their long history of sectarian conflict. However, unlike Shia-Sunni rivalry in Iraq, there are deeper apocalyptic motives behind the ongoing religious war in Syria that makes it more dangerous than any other war in which US has ever been involved.
Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front is the most popular and powerful militant group among the Syrian rebels. Driven by the salafi-jihadist ideology of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra’s goal is the establishment of a caliphate in the Levant, or bilad as-Sham which consists of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, Gaza, and even some parts of Iraq and Turkey. Such an ambitious plan to establish the caliphate in the whole region has attracted many Salafis from around the world, even from Western countries, to join jihad against the Syrian government as recently emphasized by retiring FBI Director, Robert Mueller. There is no doubt that any US military strike against the Assad regime will benefit al-Nusra Front who has proven to be the most brutal Islamist jihadist organization, and obviously, an enemy of the United States and its allies.
“The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it…” – Osama bin Laden, February 1998
Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda terrorist leader, issued his “fatwa” only seven months before the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on Aug. 7, 1998. The United States could have increased our security measures everywhere, yet Washington remained unprepared to avoid the disastrous destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden offered to organize his Arab-Afghan fighters to defend the Saudi kingdom. The royal family instead invited U.S. troops, which bin Laden considered “infidels” occupying Muslim soil, and declared a “jihad” against the United States. He did not want any foreign troops in the “land of the two mosques,” a reference to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. His protest led to house arrest, and he was asked to leave Saudi Arabia in 1991.