Saturday, August 29, 2009

Iraqi Shi'i Leader 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim Dies

On Wednesday (August 26), al-Sayyid 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of one of Iraq's largest and most powerful Shi'i political parties, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), died in Tehran, Iran, where he was being treated medically, after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. At the time of his death, the visible physical toll that the illness had caused him was stark.

Watch Reuters video of the mourning for al-Hakim.

His chief aid and expected successor as SIIC chief is his son, Sayyid 'Ammar al-Hakim. 'Abd al-'Aziz's funeral procession was attended by thousands of Iraqis and he will be buried next to his brother, Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who was assassinated in August 2003 in a massive vehicle bombing, in the Shi'i shrine city of al-Najaf in southern Iraq. Despite his illness, 'Abd al-'Aziz continued to play an influential role in his country's politics, says Iraq expert Reidar Visser, and he remained a key ally of the ruling regime in neighboring Iran. The SIIC, originally named the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was founded in November 1982 in Tehran by Iraqi exiles, under the al-Hakim brothers, with the blessing and key support of Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni.

A biographical sketch of the recently deceased SIIC leader is below:


'Abd al-'Aziz was born in the southern Iraqi city of al-Najaf who is sayyid, a descendant from the Prophet Muhammad and first Shi‘i Imam, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. He is a hujjat al-Islam (literally “proof of Islam”) and the current leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (hereafter SIIC), one of the two largest Iraqi Shi‘i political parties, a position he inherited upon the assassination of his brother, Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (1940 or 1944-2003), who was assassinated by a massive car bomb in al-Najaf in August 2003. Abd al-Aziz’s father was Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim (1889-1970), the preeminent Shi‘i religious scholar and authority in Iraq from 1955 until his death in 1970. The al-Sadr family has deep roots in Iraq as one of the premier Arab Shi‘i scholarly families based in al-Najaf, where Imam ‘Ali’s shrine is located, though the family originally came from Jabal ‘Amil, a region in historical Syria which stretches across present-day southern Lebanon, northern Israel, and northern Palestine. Abd al-Aziz’s brother, Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi (1940?-1988), another activist, was assassinated in Khartoum, Sudan, most likely on the orders of Iraqi president and Iraqi Ba‘th Party chief Saddam Hussein. All three of the al-Hakim brothers studied religious subjects under both their father and then Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (1935-1980), who was one of their father’s leading students and an activist scholar who was one of the intellectual founders of the Islamic Da‘wa Party (Hizb al-Da‘wa al-Islamiyya), Iraq’s other large Shi‘i political party.

Sayyid 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim, shortly after beginning cancer treatment, meets Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Abd al-Aziz’s earliest social and political activism occurred in tandem with his father and older brothers, all of whom were actively opposed to the growing influence of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) among segments of Shi‘i youth during the 1950s and 1960s. Grand Ayatollah al-Hakim was an outspoken critic of communism and he passed a juridical opinion (fatwa) against membership in the ICP in February 1960. He was also instrumental in the formation and support of the Jama‘at al-‘Ulama (“Society of Religious Scholars”), a coalition of religious scholars (‘ulama) opposed to the growing influence of the ICP and other Iraqi secular political parties. Due to his age, Abd al-Aziz was probably not actively involved in the Jama‘at al-‘Ulama and the Islamic Da‘wa Party (Hizb al-Da‘wa Islamiyya), though his brothers were.

Following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980 and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Abd al-Aziz and his brother, Muhammad Baqir, left Iraq for Iran, along with thousands of other Iraqi Shi‘is, many of them political activists. The ruling Iraqi Ba‘th Party had begun to crack down severely against Shi‘i political activists and other regime opponents, fearing an Iranian-style revolution led by Iraq’s long-disenfranchised Shi‘i Arab majority. Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr had been executed along with his sister, Amina bint Haydar al-Sadr (also known as Bint al-Huda), in April 1980.

Al-Hakim meets at the White House with former U.S. president George W. Bush.

In November 1982, Baqir al-Hakim announced the formation of the SIIC, then known as the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which initially was an umbrella organization that brought together officials from the various Iraqi exiled opposition movements, though it eventually became its own political party as other groups broke away over policy and ideological disputes. In 1982-83, the SIIC’s paramilitary wing, the Badr Organization, was founded under Abd al-Aziz’s leadership. Badr was made up of recruits from among the Iraqi exile community living in Iran as well as Iraqi Shi‘i prisoners-of-war, who received training and equipment from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the instructions of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolutionary leader. On the eve of the U.S. and British-led invasion of Iraq, Badr reportedly fielded 10-15,000 fighters, with a core elite group of several thousand fighters.

Abd al-Aziz and Muhammad Baqir returned to Iraq on May 12, 2003, making their way to the southern Iraqi port city of Basra, where the ayatollah gave a rousing speech in front of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi supporters in the main soccer stadium, rejecting U.S. postwar domination of the country. The al-Hakims were soon joined by thousands of SIIC members and Badr fighters who flooded into southern Iraq. Following his brother’s assassination on August 29, 2003, Abd al-Aziz assumed control of the SIIC and has since maintained a close relationship with the U.S. government, the Iranian government, and the current Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, of the Islamic Da‘wa Party.

Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim

During Abd al-Aziz’s tenure as party chief, the SIIC achieved a key electoral victory in December 2005 as part of the United Iraqi Alliance, a loose coalition of primarily Shi‘i political parties, which, together with the Kurdish political list, dominates Iraqi politics today. In the past, he has supported attempts to create a decentralized federal system, creating an autonomous Shi‘i region in southern Iraq, a move which has been repeatedly blocked by Sunni Arab politicians and Tayyar al-Sadr (Sadr Movement), the socio-political faction led by Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr. Badr officials and fighters have infiltrated the Iraqi state security forces and relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Interior. They are blamed for summarily arresting, kidnapping, torturing, and murdering Sunni Arabs, often political rivals and random civilians off of the streets, particularly in mixed Sunni-Shi‘i neighborhoods, which they seek to cleanse of Sunni Arabs. The SIIC leadership denies involvement in such attacks, despite strong evidence to the contrary. Beginning in 2004 and reaching its apogee in the spring of 2008, Badr fighters, many of them while in their capacity as Iraqi state security, have engaged in running street battles with the Sadrists over political power, reportedly seeking to weaken them before municipal elections which are tentatively scheduled for 2009. Heavy fighting under the guise of the official Iraqi state, backed by the pro-SIIC prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and the U.S. military, took place between SIIC-dominated Iraqi security forces and Sadrist fighters in Basra during the spring and early summer of 2008.

Al-Hakim meets in Tehran with Iranian supreme leader Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei

Abd al-Aziz is aided by his two sons, Muhsin (1974-) and ‘Ammar (1972-), who both head various offices and departments within the SIIC. ‘Ammar is the secretary general of the al-Mihrab Martyr Foundation, an SIIC affiliate organization which has built mosques, Islamic centers, and schools throughout southern Iraq and Shi‘i areas of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and the second-in-command of the SIIC.

Sayyid 'Ammar al-Hakim

Adapted from an encyclopedia article I authored, forthcoming in an encyclopedia project on the U.S.' Middle East wars from ABC-CLIO.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Islamist-Nationalism vs. Transnational Salafi Jihadism in Gaza

The late leader of Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Partisans of God; JAA), 'Abd al-Latif Musa (also transliterated into English as 'Abdel Latif Mousa/Moussa), in the brown robe, surrounded by masked members of the small Salafi jihadi group in the Gaza Strip.

This past Friday (August 14), dozens of members of Jund Ansar Allah (JAA), a tiny Salafi jihadi group operating in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, fought a day-long gunbattle with HAMAS security and police forces after their leader, Shaykh 'Abd al-Latif Musa, provocatively declared the formation of the "Islamic Emirate of Gaza," and the "Islamic Emirate of Bayt al-Maqdis," the Arabic name for Jerusalem's two holy shrines, Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. His declaration was a blatant challenge to the governing authority of HAMAS, the premier Palestinian Islamist-nationalist movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As worshippers who had gathered for Friday communal prayers, considered to be a religious obligation in Sunni jurisprudence, in the Ibn Taymiyyah Mosque in Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza strip, masked JAA gunmen kept a watchful eye.

By the end of the day, between 24 and 30 people had been killed (estimates vary at this point), including JAA gunmen, Shaykh Musa, and five members of HAMAS' security forces, including one commander. The confrontation included small arms fire and the use of heavier weaponry, including machine guns and explosive devices. According to some accounts, Shaykh Musa died after setting off a bomb-vest he was wearing.

JAA gunmen at the mosque in Rafah. Notice the black and white stickers on their packs and guns bearing the inscription of the Muslim testament of faith (shahadah), "there is no God but God and Muhammad is His Messenger." This style of banner is used by Salafi jihadi groups worldwide.

In its official press release on the incident, which announced the "martyrdom" of five of its members, HAMAS condemned the "outlaw" group, calling JAA "takfiri," a term used for those Muslims who declare other Muslims with whom they disagree over doctrinal issues to be apostates. JAA and its supporters, including Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a Palestinian jurist residing in the city of al-Zarqa in Jordan, have condemned HAMAS' "aggression" against "believing Muslims." Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi is widely considered to be the most infliential living Salafi jihadi scholar today. A statement bearing his name was issued within a day to the major Salafi jihadi online discussion forums, about which more discussion will follow in this post.

JAA announced its formation in mid-June of this year with the release of a 31-minute and 28-second video entitled غزوة البلاغ , roughly the "raid of proclamation/announcement," which showed its members undergoing military training as martial jihadi anasheed (songs) play in the background. The video also supported the group's claim to have carried out an attack on Israeli military forces at the Karni crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel in early June.



View Jund Ansar Allah's debut video release

HAMAS, like other Islamist-nationalist groups such as Lebanon's Hizbullah, focuses its attention on a specific geographic area, in its case the establishment of a Palestinian state. HAMAS and other Islamist-nationalist groups do not share the transnational political-ideological aspirations of Salafi jihadi groups such as al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC) and its regional allies and affiliates such as Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of Jihadi-Youth) in Somalia and the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella for the most radical Salafi Sunni groups operating in that country. Israeli officials and members of HAMAS' primary Palestinian rival, the Fatah Party of Mahmoud 'Abbas, have long accused HAMAS of supporting the formation of small, radical Salafi jihadi groups in the Gaza Strip, though these allegations are primarily political propaganda. HAMAS has countered by alleging that many of these groups, such as the Jaysh al-Ummah (Nation's Army), are funded by Fatah security forces and their senior commanders, namely the corrupt Muhammad Dahlan, a longtime Fatah strongman under both the late Yasir 'Arafat and 'Abbas.

Jaysh al-Ummah in Gaza

Transnational jihadi groups, unlike Islamist-nationalist groups such as HAMAS, see even local and regional conflicts, such as the ongoing insurgencies in Algeria and Somalia, as being a part of a wider, global conflict to establish an Islamic state, though this state may be sub-divided regionally. Transnational jihadis call this state a caliphate (khalifah), a term that was used for the series of Muslim states that were formed following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E. Their exact concept of what a new "caliphate" would entail is usually ambiguous. Current "working models," such as the Islamic State of Iraq, ironically bear much in common with "modern" "Western" models of government, with ministries, ministers, and governing councils. For more on the ambiguity of the jihadi concept of khilafah, see HERE. Regional leaders in the khilafah are given the honorific title Amir al-Mu'mineen (Commander of the Faithful), a title reserved historically by Sunnis for the caliph. Among the current amirs are Mullah Muhammad 'Umar (Omar) in Afghanistan, Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi in Iraq, and the late 'Abd al-Latif Musa in Gaza (according to cyber jihadi artwork I have found).

"The Martyr-Imam (leader)" Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi ('Abd al-Latif Musa) and other jihadi leaders, along with the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, executed in 1966, and HAMAS spiritual leader Ahmad Yassin, who was assassinated in February 2004 by Israel. Yassin's presence hints at a division between younger HAMAS members and the movement's current leaders, who are seen as having "betrayed" the "jihadi path" of Yassin and other assassinated HAMAS leaders, such as Dr. 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Rantissi, who was assassinated by Israel a month after Yassin. Indeed, JAA reportedly gained recruits from dissatisfied younger cadres from HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza. Other leaders pictured include 'Abdullah 'Azzam, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, and Khattab.

JAA is not the only Salafi jihadi group operating in Gaza. Other small likeminded groups include Jaysh al-Ummah and the Salafi-Jihadi Youth in Gaza. Some of these groups, such as JAA, maintain web sites and publish online magazines. They adhere to a a transnational Salafi jihadi ideology espoused by movements such as AQC and the Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen.

'Abd al-Latif Musa and members of JAA, who are referred to as "men of steadfastness" from among "the believers."

Salafi-Jihadi Youth in Gaza

In a statement posted on their web site, JAA condemned HAMAS for its "aggression" against Muslims and accused it of stealing $120,000 in JAA funds and equipment. JAA says that vengeance will be sought against HAMAS, which it says is a Zionist client, and against the "agents of sedition" among the Palestinians. JAA, like HAMAS, then called for praise and commemoration for its "martyrs" who were killed on Friday.

'Abd al-Latif Musa, who is also referred to as Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi

In its official statement about the incident, HAMAS honored its five members who were killed "defending the people from attack" by the "outlaw group," JAA. HAMAS commander Muhammad Jibril al-Shamali, 38, and four members of the HAMAS security forces, Mustafa Husayn al-Luqa, 23, Ayman Khalid Abu Subala, 21, Ahmad Salah Jarghun, 21, and Eyhab Maher al-Qatrus, 19, were killed in the fighting. Their biographies and photographs are currently being featured on the official web site of HAMAS' military wing, the Brigades of the Martyr 'Izz al-Din al-Qassam.

Muhammad Jibril al-Shamali

Ahmad Jarghun

Ayman Khalid Abu Subala

Eyhab Maher al-Qatrus

Mustafa Husayn al-Luqa

In his official response to the incident, the Palestinian Salafi jihadi scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi condemned HAMAS, saying that its "administration is an infidel one," and accused the movement of attacking "true believing" Muslims in JAA. HAMAS, he says, is guilty of sowing social discord (fitna) among the Muslims in Gaza. He closes by warning HAMAS "and others" that "we are not absent from Gaza," "we" being Salafi jihadis.



Signs of Salafi jihadi presence in Gaza have recently included the distribution of martyrdom literature about Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (Iraq), the posting of martyrdom artwork on Salafi jihadi online discussion forums, and the appearance of virtulently anti-Shi'i graffiti in Gaza. Many Salafi jihadis in Gaza and abroad insist that Nizar 'Abd al-Qadir Rayyan, the senior HAMAS leader assassinated by Israel in January 2009, was anti-Shi'i, thus making him an acceptable ideologue for Salafi jihadis to follow. Audio was uploaded to YouTube that purported to be Rayyan criticizing Shi'is.

Martyrdom literature about the "Commander of those who Seek Martyrdom," Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, distributed recently in Gaza.

Martyrdom poster for a Salafi jihadi fighter in Gaza, 'Ali Abu al-Qul, with a photograph of Usama bin Laden (left) over the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, two of Islam's holiest shrines.

The fighting between HAMAS and JAA in Gaza is a prime example of the significant ideological and organizational differences between Islamist-nationalists and transnational jihadis.

Friday, August 14, 2009

AFPAK: Defending Muslims or Defending al-Qa'ida Central?

Cyber mural depicting jihadi leaders over the outline of Afghanistan. From bottom left: senior AFPAK AQC leader and ideologue Abu Yahya al-Libi; assassinated (2002) Saudi-Circassian jihadi commander in Chechnya Khattab; Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri; assassinated ideologue and leader during the 1980s war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan 'Abdullah 'Azzam; Usama bin Laden.

In his article, "Defending Afghanistan: Is It Defending Islam or Defending al-Qa'idah?," in the newly released third issue of the Salafi jihadi cyber journal Jihad Recollections, Basheer al-Miqdad argues that al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC) has been waging a defensive war to "protect Islam," with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan serving as a prime example of this. He takes exception to those who, he says, have alleged that AQC is reaping the results of what it sowed by carrying out the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. This allegation, says al-Miqdad, is based on a total misunderstanding of AQC's strategies and goals. The subject is "simple...yet complex," and al-Miqdad writes that he doesn't "intent to delve deep into the specific events that led to the invasion [of Afghanistan]," referring interested readers to British journalist Peter Bergen's narrative account of AQC, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden.

Al-Miqdad lays out the "main points" about AQC's "defensive jihad" as follows:

(1) AQC is "fighting a war for the Ummah," the worldwide Muslim community, because, unfortunately the Ummah "was too lazy to mobilize itself due to many factors including their fear of the Tawagheet [idolators, a reference to non-Muslim aggressors] and love of the dunya [this world]."

The other main goal of AQC, he argues, was to ensure that "the specialties and abilities of the Ummah [did not] go to waste" so as to "combine the Muslim's [sic] efforts around the world into one massive endeavor in order to bring back the Shari'ah [law] of ar-Rahman ["The Most Compassionate," one of the 99 Names of God]."

Thus, AQC is not an "Arabonly" (sic) movement, it is a pan-Muslim movement, "a truly International Islamic Movement" (sic) that has been "a missing factor that disappeared after the Caliphate's abolishment" following the First World War and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The caliphate refers to the system of government, akin to other imperial systems, through which Muslim lands were governed. Salafi jihadis and some Sunni Islamist movements have developed a utopian conception of "the caliphate" that bears little resemblance to historical realities. They see "the caliphate" as the "perfect" system of governance, though most groups, both militant (jihadis) and not (Hizb ut-Tahrir), have only simplistic "paper" designs for how such a system would work in the real world.

"America's Nose Will be Forced into the Dust": Cyber mural about the ongoing war in Afghanistan, with a quote extolling fighting "in the way of God" [in a manner ordained by God] until there is no strife and until oppression has ended with the victory of God's religion [Islam].

Al-Miqdad says that "the closest" example of such a movement in "modern history" before the formation of AQC was the Muslim Brotherhood, which was first founded in Egypt and which then spread across the Arab world with the formation of other nation-based branches. Although the Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) is technically a single movement, today in reality it is divided into autonomous national organizations, with, for example, the Ikhwan in Egypt being independent from the Jordanian Ikhwan. His highlighting of the Ikhwan is interesting, especially considering that AQC's chief ideologue, the Egyptian Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, holds the movement in contempt for adopting nationalism, which transnational Salafi jihadis view as an "un-Islamic" concept.

Cyber mural praising the resistance and fighting spirit of the Afghan people

(2) The war between AQC, which al-Miqdad has the gall to presume represents all "the" Muslims when in fact they represent a minority fringe, did not begin with September 11, 2001 or even with the AQC attack on the U.S.S. Cole in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden the year before. No, the current war began because of U.S. presence in Muslim lands, in particular the Arabian Peninsula, where the two holiest shrines of Islam are located. AQC's leaders and supporters have long said that this was one of several primary reasons for their opposition to the U.S. Al-Miqdad notes that the U.S. presence in Arabia long predates the 1991 Gulf War and argues, "Clearly, the aggressor here is America for if a foreign nation were to install their military bases and spying headquarters in your land, it would be an act of aggression, deception and most evidently war."

(3) The U.S. is a long backer of Israel, which occupies militarily Palestinian land, and the tyrants and autocrats who rule much of the Muslim world, which makes the U.S. an enemy of Muslims. The U.S.' clients in the Muslim world are "bootlickers" and apostates who are only interested in safeguarding their own authority and wealth.

(4) Because of its support of the aforementioned groups of aggressors and tyrants, the U.S. is thus an active participant in the "killing, maiming, and insult to injury of the Muslims but in a subtle way where they aren't caught." If it's so "subtle" one wonders how then al-Miqdad and other AQC supporters have been able to "discover" it. Perhaps it is because they, as he claims earlier in the article, AQC and other Salafi jihadis are the "true champions" and "leaders" of the world's Muslims [read: sarcasm].

(5) Al-Miqdad repeats alleged claims made by AQC and the Afghan Taliban that the U.S. had intentions of invading and occupying Afghanistan long before September 11, 2001, but provides no evidence or sources to substantiate them. Based on this, he argues, the September 11 terrorist attacks were a justifiable defensive response to U.S. aggression against Muslims. It was also part of AQC's plan using "the art of dragging," as al-Miqdad describes it. AQC wanted to drag the U.S. into Afghanistan, "a mountainous land in which they will stand toe-to-toe with the battle-hardened sons of the Haramain [land of the two holy mosques] whose hearts are ablaze for meeting Allah [God as Shuhada' [martyrs/witnesses]."

Cyber mural describing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as an "operation to liberate Palestine," with photographs of Palestinian children killed or wounded in Israeli military attacks flanking a satellite image of New York City right after the attacks. The mural was uploaded not to Salafi jihadi online discussion forum, but to the official web site of the Iraqi Islamist-nationalist insurgent group the Islamic Army of Iraq. The IAI is the main rival to al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI) and the Salafi jihadi umbrella the Islamic State of Iraq.

The U.S. under president Barack Obama is no different than past incarnations. "Because of 9/11, the thin line between America’s support for tyranny and their calls for human rights has completely disappeared. With the election of Obama in office, they seek to draw that line again without facing up to the responsibilities of their hideous actions, support for dictatorships, and military intervention in the Islamic world."

Al-Miqdad closes by repeating his claims that AQC is "defending" Muslims, while also blaming the majority of the Ummah for not rushing to support the group in its efforts: "The call of defending the Islamic lands against occupation is not a call to defend a certain group but a pro-active call to awaken the Ummah from its slumber. For the first time in our history, we have an invisible Caliphate. The only reason why no one can see it is because the Ummah is not rushing to bring it back."

In the end, he says, only the "procrastinators and the depisers of Paradise" [those Muslims who do not support AQC and non-Muslim aggressors] will "regret their own actions in the end."

Defending Afghanistan
Read the entire article

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Issue, Third, of Jihad Recollections, English-language Jihadi Journal, Released

The third issue (#3) of the English-language jihadi cyber journal Jihad Recollections was published yesterday on the online jihadi discussion forums. The new issue includes several articles of note, including part 3 of a series of articles commemorating the assassinated al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC) AFPAK commander Abu'l Layth al-Libi (parts 1 and 2 were published in the first two issues of the journal respectively). Also included are the second part of an article criticizing U.S. president Barack Obama's health care plan, an article on "liberation without Islam," highlights from an al-Jazeera interview with AQC senior AFPAK commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, an article on the transnational Muslim group Tablighi Jama'at, an article on Carlos Bledsoe, a U.S. Army soldier and convert who murdered a military recruiter in June, and an article on the ongoing guerilla war and jihad in Afghanistan.

Articles analyzing the evolution of AQC's media wing, al-Sahab (The Clouds), and a transcript of Abu Mansur al-Amriki's (Ameriki) "response" to Obama's Cairo speech are also included. The new issue's cover story purports to tell the story of a U.S. soldier who converted to Islam after serving in Iraq.


In-depth analysis of several articles will be published in posts here on Occident beginning tomorrow. Please check back!

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Art of the Martyr, Part I: Martyrdom in Transnational Jihadi Visual Media

***First Post in a Series of Posts based on My Current Research Project on Islamist Visual Media, "The Art of the Martyr & Mujahid (Copyright)"***

"Shaykh" Abu 'Uthman Ibrahim, the member of al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who carried out a kamikaze truck bombing against the United Nations offices in Algiers, Algeria on December 11, 2007.

Online discussion forums allow for the creation of virtual shrines and halls of remembrance by Islamist nationalist, secular nationalist, and transnational Salafī jihadī movements for their martyrs. Photographs of young men and women adorn threads which often include biographical information about the martyrs or links to official or unofficial biographies produced by the movements to which they belonged or by their family and friends who are participants in the forums. These threads enable the images and stories of the martyrs to be broadcast to an audience much wider than that in their own localities and places of residence. The commemoration of martyrs online has been transformed into a type of cyber-ritual, which includes participants leaving messages of praise and expressions of happiness that the martyr, they believe, “achieved” entrance into Heaven for their bravery while at the same time noting with sadness their death. The creation of such virtual “sacred spaces” and “cyber-rituals” is part of a growing trend in the online expression of religious, and in this case religio-political, belief.

By visiting these virtual shrines and halls of remembrance, members and supporters of these movements are able to perpetuate the continuous, and potentially global, remembrance of the lives and ultimate sacrifices of their martyrs, who in turn attain a “virtual” persona online. In these virtual spaces, a kind of pluralism in commemoration exists, with martyred senior leaders and martyrs from the rank-and-file existing in equilibrium, as these spaces enable friends and family of the rank-and-file members to publicize “their” martyr as widely as is done with senior leaders. Martyrdom artwork is no longer exclusive to physical environments, such as Gaza City and the streets of Iraqi cities and towns. Through the network provided by the Internet, new and old types of martyrdom artwork is now accessible to a much wider audience than was possible even fifteen years ago.

"Honoring" Mullah Mansur Dadullah (left), a senior military leader in the Afghan Taliban, and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (right), both shown in life and death (after achieving their "martyrdom," in the eyes of their supporters).

"Sword of Islam" Khattab, the Saudi-Circassian Arab jihadi commander (amir) in Chechnya who was assassinated by the Russians in 2002. The white dove represents the serenity of Paradise as well as the "birds of Paradise."

Unnamed martyr of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella for the most radical Salafi jihadi groups operating in that country, including al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (al-Qa'ida in Iraq; AQI). AQI's leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, has pledged allegiance to the ISI's "amir al-mu'mineen" (commander of the faithful), a title reserved by Sunnis for the caliph, Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi.

Unnamed martyr of the Islamic State of Iraq

Adam Ayro, "Abu Muhsin," a commander in the al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC) affiliated Somali Salafi jihadi group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of Warrior-Youth), who was assassinated on May 1, 2008 in a U.S. airstrike.

Hamza al-Ghaznawi, " 'Aziz al-Rahman al-Afghani," a Taliban martyr from the Afghan province of Ghazni.

The "brother, Bilal". He was featured in a video release produced by AQIM in its series "Series of the Shade of Swords," سلسلة ظلال السيوف .

Al-Zubayr al-Sudani, one of the Arab jihadi martyrs featured in the fourth and most recent installment of the AQC-produced video series "Wind of Paradise," ريح الجنة .

Yusuf Abu Basir al-'Asimi, an AQIM "martyr".

Abu Mus'ab al-'Asami, an AQIM kamikaze bomber. According to the text, the "warrior-youth" was only 15 years old, and he killed or wounded about 90 "apostates" during his "blessed operation" against an Algerian military base in Dellys on September 8, 2007.

Abu Zubayr, a member of one of the small Salafi jihadi groups operating in the Gaza Strip (possibly the Salafi-Jihadi Youth in Gaza), in life and death.

Shaykh 'Abdullah 'Azzam, "Leader of Jihad," the Palestinian religious scholar who was a major fundraiser and recruiter for the resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. He remains perhaps the most heralded and influential jihadi scholar, though many of his views were closer to the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) than to the Salafi jihadis of today.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Portraits of Resistance & Jihad in Chechnya & the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus

Three flags (from top): Chechen flag; flag of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus with the text "God is Greater [than all]"; flag of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria

صور من المقاومة و الجهاد في شيشان و القوقاز

Since being colonized in the eighteenth century by the Russians, Chechens have suffered under a systematic campaign of discrimination and were forced to deny their cultural identity. Resistance to Russian imperialism began early by the mid-18th century and continued throughout the 19th under heroic Chechen leaders such as Imam Shamil. Under the rule of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union Chechens who resisted were arrested, tortured, and either deported or murdered. During the rule of Joseph Stalin, the Chechens were forbidden from speaking their own language and a campaign of Russification began.

In 1994 Russia invaded Chechnya in order to crush a growing independence movement. During the two-year-long conflict, Russia destroyed vast swaths of the country, leveled the capital city of Grozny, and killed tens of thousands of Chechen civilians. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to flee Russian forces. After suffering an embarassing stalemate despite their technological and military superiority the Russians were forced to withdraw.

Claiming that they were acting against Chechen terrorists, Russia invaded Chechnya again in 1999 on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. Russian forces remain there to this day and have managed to set up a puppet regime. Russian forces in Chechnya have committed horrible atrocities including murders of civilians, summary executions without any legal recourse for suspected dissidents, rapes, and torture. Russian forces have also kidnapped Chechens for interrogation, which often includes torture, and have robbed civilians of their property.

A Chechen man prays during the First Battle of Grozny, January 1995. The flame in the background is coming from a gas pipeline which was hit by shrapnel.

This battle was the Russian army's invasion and subsequent conquest of the Chechen capital, Grozny, during the early months of the First Chechen War. The attack lasted from December 1994 to March 1995, resulted in the military occupation of the city by the Russian Army and rallied most of the Chechen nation around the separatist government of Dzhokhar Dudayev.

The Chechen capital city of Grozny, after it was destroyed by the besieging Russian military.

Russian tank in a destroyed Grozny

Certain Chechen groups, particularly those influenced and supported by foreign elements who have attempted to erase Chechnya's history of Sufi Islamic mysticism, have committed atrocities as well, such as the hostage takings at Beslan, the Moscow Theater, and other similar attacks on civilians carried out by loyalists of individuals such as Shamil Basayev. There is no justification for such actions. Foreign and domestic Salafi jihadis have attempted to erase the historical and cultural connections of many Chechens to Sufi Islamic mysticism despite erroneous claims that it is "un-Islamic." Contrary to their views, the first great Chechen resistance leader, in the 19th century, was the brave Naqshbandi Sufi leader Imam Shamil.

Imam Shamil

Following the establishment of the Russian-backed and propped-up puppet regime in Chechnya following the de facto Russian victory, however incomplete, in the Second Russo-Chechen War (the war that began in 1999), an opposition government and "state", the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, was declared. Chechen resistance groups worked closely with other nationalist-separatist groups in the Russian-dominated Caucasus, particularly in Dagestan and Ingushetiya, which fell under the jack boot of the increasingly autocratic Vladimir Putin.

In late 2007, the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus was declared, with Doku Umarov (also called 'Dokka") as its amir (leader). The Russians call him, as they do all those who resist their rule, "terrorists." Umarov has had relations in the past with Chechen resistance leaders, namely the late Shamil Basayev, who have been actively involved in terrorism (the intentional targeting of civilians or wanton disregard for their safety) as well as operations against the Russian military and its Chechen proxies. Umarov, however, has condemned terrorist attacks explicitly, including the Beslan school hostage taking in 2004.

He was asked in 2005 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitskii, "Does that mean that such acts [such as Beslan] have been acknowledged, have been granted moral legitimacy by the Chechen resistance?"

Doku (Dokka) Umarov

Umraov responded, "No, in the eyes of the resistance such operations have no legitimacy. We ourselves were horrified by what they did in Beslan." He is also a practitioner of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, belonging, reportedly, to the Qadiriyya Order. Basayev, originally a Chechen nationalist, later adopted Salafism, a puritanical form of Sunni Islam, and particularly the jihadi Salafi trend. Chechen nationalist resistance was steadily overtaken in many areas by Salafi jihadi actors primarily from abroad, specifically a cadre of Arab fighters including the famous Circassian-Saudi leader Khattab and his lieutants and successors. Together with Basayev, they marginalized Chechen nationalist leaders, such as former Chechen president Aslan Maskhdov (assassinated by Russia in early March 2005).

The IEC, however, has claimed other attacks on civilians or targets where many civilians were present.

Shamil Basayev (right), a Chechen nationalist-turned-Salafi jihadi, with Samir Salah 'Abdullah al-Suwaylem (left), the Saudi-Circassian jihadi amir (leader) of foreign fighters (primarily Arabs) in Chechnya who is better known by his nom de guerre, Khattab. Russia assassinated Basayev in July 2006 and Khattab in March 2002.

The president of Chechnya-turned-nationalist resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov (left) with 'Abd al-'Aziz bin 'Ali bin Sa'id al-Ghamdi (right), better known by his nom de guerre Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi, successor to Khattab as amir of foreign fighters in Chechnya. Abu al-Walid, like Khattab, was a Saudi. Russia assassinated Maskhadov in March 2005 and Abu al-Walid in April 2004.

Shamil Basayev (third from left), Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi (second from right), and Aslan Maskhadov (far right).

Following the disappointing results of their involvement in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, transnational jihadis connected or ideologically similar to Salafi jihadi groups such as al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC) increasingly flocked to other "fields," including Chechnya. Chechnya became one of the fields of interest to AQC and its affiliates and allies, and has been mentioned in the past in messages from AQC chief ideologue Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (Iraq).

Shamil Basayev

Shamil Basayev (left) with Akhmed Yevloyev (right), better known as Amir Magas, the leader of Islamist guerillas in Ingushetia, a Caucasus republic neighboring Chechnya and also ruled, ultimately, by Russia.

The resistance-jihad to Russian rule in Chechnya and the Caucasus has attracted mujahideen [warriors of faith] of different varieties from around the Muslim world, though the majority have come from Turkey and the Arab world. Some of them are Salafi jihadis who see the conflict(s) as part(s) of a global conflict, while others seek to help their co-religionists fight back against Russian rule. In the photographs below, notice the diversity of the fighters and their appearances.

Even the U.S. Department of State recognizes, not all Chechen and Caucasian separatist groups are involved in terrorism and some are legitimately fighting for their rights against an increasingly (re)imperialist Russia and its Chechen and regional puppets.


Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi

Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi (center top)

Shamil Basayev (right) and Farid Yusuf Umayra, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Hafs al-Urduni ("the Jordanian"), who successed Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi as amir of foreign fighters in Chechnya after the latter's assassination by Russia in April 2004. Abu Hafs was killed in battle against Russian forces in November 2006.

Abu Hafs al-Urduni; his hand signal is commonly used by Salafi jihadis, symbolizing their willingness to be killed, attaining, they believe, martyrdom and entrance into Paradise.

"The Martyrs" (as listed in the discussion forum thread where I found this photograph) Nurullah and Hamzat Hayrullah.

Caucasus mujahideen

An unnamed mujahid with Supyan Abdullayev (left), an ally of the late Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov. Abdullayev is now a member of the ruling council of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus under Doku Umarov and like him is a Sufi, not a Salafi.

Imam TV is the Russian language media outlet, along with KavKaz Center, of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus. Kav Kaz has sites in a variety of languages, including Russian, Arabic, Turkish, and English.

Unnamed mujahideen with Amir Aslanbek (far right), a member of the ruling council of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus.

Amir Tarhan Gaziev (bottom row, second from left) and Amir Sayf (or "Seif") al-Islam, "Sword of Islam," (bottom row, second from right), two members of the ruling council of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus.

Amir Doku Umarov (second from right), overall amir (leader) of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus, and two members of the Emirate's ruling council, Amir Supyan Abdullayev (second from left) and Amir Tarhan Gaziev (far right).

Ruling council (shura) of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus. Visible are Amir Huseyn (third from left), Amir Doku "Dokka" Umarov (fourth from left), Amir Akhmed "Magas" Yevloyev (fifth from left), and Amir Sayf al-Islam (fifth from right).

"Lions of Chechnya" (from left): Khattab, Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi....Abu Hafs al-Urduni (second from right) and Shamil Basayev (far right), before he converted to Salafism and grew a long, unkept beard.