Part 3: Controlling territory – applying theology as absolute public and private governance

Posted August 15, 2017 by Nico Prucha
Categories: ISIS, online jihad, Social Media Sunni Extremist Activism, Theology of Violence

Header IS Briefing Part 3

Unlike AQ, IS controls swathes of territory in the Sunni Arab heartlands, primary in Iraq and Syria; despite loss thereof after its power peak. The theology which was largely theoretical in the case of AQ is now applied in full by IS – making the “state” a real and attractive alternative where the imaginative “real-Islam” promoted by AQ has now become a reality with IS and embodied by the “caliphate upon the prophetic methodology”. Sunni extremism – as much as any religious form of extremism or orthodoxy – is driven by an absolute belief in God whereas the application of absolute formalized religious rule is the desired final objective (and the only solution to minimize the threat of living in a state of sin, which would send you to hellfire). For over three decades, jihadists in their own words, both in writing and on film, have been yearning for the creation of an Islamic State and, ultimately, the return of the Caliphate. The power of the self-designated “Islamic State” nurtures on this desire, and the extremist tradition of calling for this restoration of power, as a driving force and an identity marker.

The application of theological concepts written since the 1980s gives IS the power to claim to have restored the “abode of Islam” (dar al-Islam) and clearly demarcate who is a Sunni Muslim and part of the Sunni community – and who is not. Apostates or traitors, who thus are excommunicated (takfir) and executed as alleged spies[1] or “wizards” who conduct black magic[2], homosexuals who are dealt with as “the people of Lot” and pushed from rooftops to death[3] signify a clearly implemented theology IS openly advocates online – and enforces offline.

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“Islam” has been restored and is now embodied by the “state”. In their own words, responding in September 2015 to the refugee crises, IS presents itself as the only legitimate zone where Sunni Muslims can exercise their duties to God accordingly as,

“the whole world, from east to west, became dar al-kufr, the “abode of the disbelievers”. Therefore God set in motion the establishment of the Islamic State. This state consists of numerous elements that make it dar al-Islam. Therefore, the rule of shari’a law returned as well as the implementation of physical punishment (al-hudud),[4] cutting off the hands of thieves, punishing adultery by stoning to death and beheading wizards. The establishment of the Islamic State as a reaction to those who commit injustice, governed by “commanding right and forbidding wrong”[5] while driving a jihad against the disbelievers – thus the might of the Islamic community has been restored. Muslims living in the state openly manifest the rituals of their religion[6], not fearing anything apart from God – therefore the state of Islam is the abode of Islam in this era. It is obligatory for every Muslim to support and protect it, to openly display dissociation and enmity to the enemies of the Islamic State.”[7]

For IS this means there is only one Islamic state in the world and it is every Muslims’ obligation to support this project. The element of applied theology, however, is often expressed in IS videos where the filmed executions or applied punishments are backed by writings. An execution video released on October 18, 2015 from the IS-province (wilaya)[8] Nineveh shows a mujahid armed with a sword mounted on a horse chasing towards a prisoner kneeling on the desert ground. The executioner arrives in a setting deliberately re-enacting the early Muslims on a raid, being a murabit, a horseman ready for war while spiritually tuned to defend his territory and being willing to enter paradise.[9]

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A 13-page-document released about a year later by the Ashhad Media foundation took a screenshot of the October 2015 video to project visual coherence[10] to those who have seen the movie: this is a theological booklet justifying and explaining “the ruling on those who support the rafida [derogatory for Shiites] against the Ahl al-Sunna”, written by Abu ‘Ali al-‘Iraqi.

Al-‘Iraqi alludes to what is generally applied in such IS execution videos – the Sunni jihadist argumentation concerning who has pledged loyalty to God and who has violated this pledge. It engulfs the concept of “dissociation” (al-bara’) from disbelievers and the absolute loyalty (wala’) to God that was made popular by AQ ideologues, including writings by Osama bin Laden.[11] In the video, several men are beheaded for their betrayal of the ahl al-Sunna (as embodied by IS) as they are accused of having conducted espionage against Shiite militias and the Iraqi government, considered a Iranian-Shiite proxy by IS. As the “caliphate” has been re-established, the obligatory pledge of allegiance (bay’a) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi means per definition that all loyalty is to God, via al-Baghdadi, as the human representative (khilaf) in the “state” (dawla).

As second sample of applied theology spread via Telegram are the hundreds of IS videos showing the amputations of hands.

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On the left, a cover of a 20-page- book gives the readers a detailed analysis on the permission to exercise physical punishments against transgressors.[12] The arguments are exclusively referring to historical scholars, selected passages from Qur’an and Sunna as well as precedents from historical role models.

On the right side are two screenshots from the video “the ruling of the creator (God) upon the thief”, released by the IS province Nineveh in mid-2015.[13] They show, prior to the act of amputating the two thieves hands in public, religious references appearing as texts to sanction and fully validate this act of punishment according to sharia law. This is a highly appealing message that IS wants to exploit in its videos: the “Islamic State” is based on religious scripture and thus is the only true community of Sunni Muslims, and: IS is acting on behalf of God.

[1] For example: Tahalafuhum wa-irhabana, wilayat Nineveh, July 20, 2016 shows the execution of alleged Kurdish spies by French foreign fighters who avenge killed civilians resulting from airstrikes and praise the lone wolf attack in Nice. The attack on Bastille Day by a lone wolf driving a truck into crowds on the Promenade des Anglais resulted in the death of 86 people.

[2] La yuflih al-sahir haythu ati, wilayat Barqa, December 5, 2016

[3] ‘Am ‘ala l-fath, wilayat Nineveh, June 11, 2015.

[4] i.e. the amputation of hand and/or feet as punishment for crimes. This form of jurisdiction is also documented by IS videos to showcase being a functioning state: iqama hadd ‘ala sariqayn, wilayat gharb Ifriqiyya, November 2, 2015.

[5] IS has released several documents and videos, sanctioning and showing the destruction of, for example, Shiite mosques, churches, Yazidi shrines, graveyards, or the total obliteration of pre-Islamic statues as well as museums housing these artifacts. “Commanding good and forbidding evil” is the theological legitimacy for the Islamic police, who apart from safeguarding the Sunni integrity by systematically removing sites of veneration that violate the Sunni extremist theology also police communities and, for example, ensure the illicit trade and consumption of tobacco is persecuted. For details: Nico Prucha, Reformatting Space: The Self-Proclaimed “Islamic State’s” Strategy of Destroying Cultural Heritage and Committing Genocide, European Union National Institutes for Culture, http://washington-dc.eunic-online.eu/?q=content/reformatting-space-0, November 2015.

[6] Which had been previously banned or could only be taken care of in secrecy under secular Arab regimes to avoid being arrested for possible Islamist oppositional work.

[7] Suhayl al-Najdi, Luju’ al-Muslimin ila ard al-salibiyyin wa-l iqama fiha, Mu’assassat al-Wafa’, September 2015.

[8] Wa-in ‘uddatum ‘uddna, 2, wilaya Nineveh, October 18, 2015.

[9] The comprising theological concept of ribat is discussed in: Nico Prucha,  Jihadists’ Use of Quran’s ribat concept,” Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, August 2009.

[10] Abu ‘Ali al-Iraqi, hukm a’an al-rafida ‘ala ahl al-Sunna, Mu’assassat Ashhad li-l ‘ilami, October 9, 2016.

[11] Osama bin Laden, tawjihat al-minhajiyya, Minbar al-Tawhed wa-l Jihad, 2006.

[12] Abu Bakr Khalid bin Muhammad al-Shami, Daf’u iham al-tadarruj bi l-tadbiq, Mu’assassat al-Wafa’, 2016.

[13] Hukm al-khaliq bi haqq al-sariq, wilaya Nineveh, June 4, 2015.

 

 

 

Part 2: “Upon the prophetic methodology” and the media universe

Posted August 1, 2017 by Nico Prucha
Categories: ISIS, Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Social Media Sunni Extremist Activism, Theology of Violence

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IS publishes a rich blend of propaganda on a daily basis, ranging from text documents to professionally produced videos. Any release by IS – as much as the intention of AQ media – seeks to inform, educate and convince the consumer that the jihadists are the only “true” Muslims, following the correct “prophetic methodology.” For jihadists, the heavy use of the media is part of their war for the “hearts and minds” – and the quest for authority, to be acknowledged as the only sincere representatives of ‘true’ Sunni Islam.

Among the major successes IS was able to reclaim for itself was the tearing down of the border between Syria and Iraq. While AQ has been theorizing about liberating and re-uniting Islamic territory for years without end, it was the “Islamic State” in 2014 that was physically able to implement what AQ claimed to fight for. The texts, published in classical print magazines of the 1980s and 1990s and later on the Internet have been enriched by Sunni extremist videos – with the same modus operandi (from off-line media to digital since the early 2000s). Anyone who knows the Sunni extremist literature, can read the videos in full, understanding all embedded codes, visual language, the habitus of the propagated Sunni Muslim identity etc.

evolution of jihadist magazines

IS turned the tables. By applying a great deal of Sunni extremist literature upon real territory, a population and having the space to document what was unprecedented (such as the execution of alleged homosexuals by plunging to death from roof tops), IS was able to establish a repository of videos in mainly Arabic but also other languages, where theology has been applied – and where the lesser initiated can become followers even without reading the massive amount of Sunni extremist materials available online. The videos bridge the language gap and serve as a pull factor into the mindset of Sunni extremism: those who do not speak Arabic and have questions about the Sunni Muslim identity offered by IS can find answers themselves by tuning into – for example – English language explanations of shirk (loosely translated as “polytheism” for now) by foreign fighters from Cambodia[1], or get a picture of the importance of the tearing down of the border between Syria and Iraq by a foreign fighter from Chile.

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Without reading the Arabic core documents, however, theological nuances that echo into contemporary IS motifs and mindset is missing. This is where non-Arabic language translations and tabloid-styled magazines come into play and provide further explanations – yet serving as a further opening for the non-Arabic able consumers to dig deeper into the electronic treasure trove of Sunni extremist books and videos of the past 35+ years, including dedicated English, German, French, Russian, Bahasa etc. materials (including said books and videos). And these are the very documents that make up the Sunni extremist mindset and that lead IS to the application thereof where they can derive the theological framework for their non-combat actions or governing rules (from destroying museums to systematic destruction of Shiite mosques or enslaving Yazidis). Liberating territory defined as “Islamic” and enforcing shari’a rule carried out by the extremists, who would then establish special police units to assure any violation of religious commandments will be punished. This, naturally, targets the local population in an attempt to “reformat” or replace local Islamic customs and give religion the space it did not have before. Most of these theological concepts, parameters and nuances can be referred to the “prophetic methodology” – if we follow the extremists in their words. Thus the “caliphate upon the prophetic methodology” as a slogan represents in sum what jihadists and their sympathizers struggle for. This too, is not new if you recall AQAP slogans of the 2000s such as “akhriju l-mushrikin min jazirat al-‘Arab” and the deployment of the first bi-weekly electronic magazine “sawt al-jihad”.[2] These materials serve as a legacy for IS to establish itself in the 2000s and to unfold in 2013/4 onwards. In turn the legacy of IS and the massive quantity of contemporary materials will be the legacy for future Sunni extremist groups that are operationally sometimes but theologically always connected. With the demise of parts of IS-held territory, the coherent audio-visual narratives – nearly all of the over 2,000 videos are in full-HD, 16:9 – remain and serve as inspiration to restore rule by the “prophetic methodology” for future generations. This is where the nostalgia will kick in with all the jihadist legacy expressed by the texts, videos, nashid, poetry, even humor.[3]

IS was able to enforce theological authoritative texts and religious decrees using a solid basis by “AQ scholars” and consequently document the output by audio-visual means, which then on top had been consistently released on social media. At first massively on Twitter[4] before moving on to Telegram.[5] And of course there is the strategy to spray IS materials on all levels of the Internet. Telegram has replaced Twitter as the core and is the first line of dissemination from which onwards specific content gets pushed out. On Telegram not all content is being disseminated outside the core IS-groups into the ‘open net’, (might do an extra post on this sometime).

Hence, nothing of what IS does is new – however, the scale and pace of enforcing these theological parameters physically (and filming and disseminating this online) is new, with the exception of execution of alleged spies, hostages or “apostates” (as had been outlined by – of the many – Abu Yahya al-Libi, 2009). This is partly why the ‘narratives’ of IS are highly coherent and attractive. AQ often referred to ‘aqida (creed) and minhaj/manhaj (methodology) when outlining what defines a Sunni Muslim. This ranges from proper prayer conduct to destroying graves of holy men (awliya’) whenever possible. AQ was only able in a limited way to enforce this “prophetic methodology” when in control of pockets of territory in Iraq and especially in Yemen and partly in Mali and when AQAP 1.0 was active in Saudi Arabia targeting the “mushrikin”. The claim to re-enact the lives of early Muslims under the command of prophet Muhammad, acting on said “prophetic methodology” and applying divine laws as opposed to man-made laws is a core element of Sunni extremist theology and hence part of the wider mindset tied into the “Muslim identity” – by the standards of the extremists. Abu Mus’ab al-Suri (2004) romanticized about this as one of the objectives for any mujahid in his 1600 page long book “Global Islamic Resistance Call” (pages 42, 92). Al-Suri referenced a popular hadith, predicting “the return of the caliphate upon the prophetic methodology.” Ayman al-Zawahiri in his “fourth open interview” (2007), conducted online and published by al-Sahab – back in the day that communication took place within vBulletin community forums –, demanded that Sunni jihadist organizations in Iraq ally with “the Islamic State in Iraq” to liberate territory and consequently re-establish the “abode of Islam” (dar al-Islam) by introducing the “prophetic methodology”. End of July 2014, the al-Furqan Media Foundation (which was founded over a decade ago) released a video entitled ‘ala minhaj al-nubuwwa.

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Claiming “prophetic conduct” means claiming infallibility. Dozens of IS videos in the past years show the enforcement of shari’a law regulations and applied theology – not only the hard power side such as the execution of spies, the amputation of hands, but also the collection of taxes, the enforcing of health regulations at food markets or state provided dental care. A great deal of this is carried out by the al-Hisba, the religious police, which not only enforces proper Islamic clothing but is also often seen in videos where contraband such as alcohol and tobacco are burned or items related to shirk) are destroyed.

From Theory to Practice & the On-/Off-Line Relationship

Religious references to the ahl al-Sunna wa-l jama’a are often made[6], meaning the Sunni Muslims who act according to the prophetic tradition (Sunna), emulating prophet Muhammad and his companions. Sunni extremists claim to be in the closest proximity to God by re-enacting the example and guidance, as set by the Sunna of prophet Muhammad and his companions (sahaba). IS has taken this concept to a new level by popularizing their slogan “upon the prophetic methodology” (ala minhaj al-nubuwwa). This means that they justify every action, ranging from the destruction of Shiite mosques to the execution of non-Sunni Muslims, with reference to certain, selectively chosen parts of divine scripture and the prophetic tradition.

Jihadist media operatives document all of these actions, who then produce professional, full high definition 16:9 videos. These videos are released on social media platforms that, in turn push contents onto the mobile devices and desktop computers of users.

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The billboard above reads: “the messenger – peace be upon him said: “between a man and shirk and disbelief  stands the abolishing of [ritual] prayer.”

As IS applies a great deal of theological documents and theories penned by generations of AQ theologians, argumentatively, AQ remains most important and has regained an active role by offshoot groups and individuals who subscribe to this monopoly of truth. The theological parameters and interpretations of Islamic sources give out a highly coherent set of ‘narratives’. While the role model of the ‘proper’ Sunni Muslim according to these principals of faith (‘aqida) and religious methodology (manhaj/minhaj) is embodied by the jihadists who claim purity and absolute proximity to god. The doctrine of Sunni extremism provides a clear identity of what it should mean to be a ‘true’ monotheistic Muslim (muwahhid) and how to profess the divine laws of God (shari’a) as based on the authoritarian interpretations and guidelines freely available on the Internet – giving answers to real life grievances in zones of conflict across diverse Islamic countries. Fighters and clerics likewise and sometimes in rotating roles relate the written ideology into actions and fierce emotional sermons conveyed by the extremist’s most powerful platform: Telegram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and more; jihadi forums and dedicated websites. These role models, the corpus of texts, and most important the jihadi-affiliated and hijacked iconography most prominently represented and identifiable by the black banner with the imprinted shahada,[7] has successfully manifested within majority Sunni Islamic societies, and has even more so gained visibility within the Arab public space amid the chaos and aftermath of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’.[8] Perhaps even more so in times of upheaval and (re-) spawning of militant groups throughout the countries affected by the ‘Arab Spring’, first and foremost Syria, the emphasis of jihadist media advisors, strategists and contributors is set to emphasize their own role and importance:

“We are indeed convinced that the battlefields of the media jihad are of the most important streams of jihad and a elementary front thereof in this raging war with our enemies. Therefore, we [media workers] commit ourselves just as any jihadi brigade, working correspondingly with our brothers in the fields of war, directly encountering the enemies.”[9]

The media in principal is used on a tactical level, not only to incite and recruit individuals worldwide, but to create theological denominators and operational paradigms with policy guidelines for various jihadist groups. While “jihad” is first and foremost agreed to as being implemented by militant and violent means in general, or in short linked to “combat” (qital), the media thereof follows the rationale of propagating Islam (da’wa) and the proper religious methodology (manhaj/minhaj). This propagation thus is part of the overall objective to “establish the rightly guided caliphate” while uniting various Sunni fighting groups and individuals under this particular propagated manhaj.[10]

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With the Islamic State having endured for years as the “established rightly guided caliphate”, stretching across Syria and Iraq as its core area, and the day-to-day application of the “prophetic methodology”, the legacy it already leaves behind for future jihad theaters is part of the many challenges to overcome modern-day global terrorism.

[1] Markaz al-Hayyat li’-l ‘ilam, Stories from the Land of the Living – the Story of Abu Khaled the Cambodian from Australia,

[2] Nico Prucha, Die Stimme des Dschihad “Sawt al-gihad”: al-Qa’idas erstes Online-Magazin Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovač, 2010

[3] See the statements by Thomas Hegghammer: https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/23/the-culture-that-makes-a-jihadi-thomas-hegghammer-interview-poetry-militancy

[4] Ali Fisher and Nico Prucha: The Call-Up: The Roots of a Resilient and Persistent Jihadist Presence on Twitter, Global Ecco, CTX vo.4 no.3, August 2014, https://globalecco.org/nl/the-call-up-the-roots-of-a-resilient-and-persistent-jihadist-presence-on-twitter

[5] Nico Prucha: IS and the Jihadist information Highway – Projecting Influence and Religious Identity via Telegram, Perspectives on Terrorism, vol. 10, no. 6 (2016), http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/556

[6] For example the major IS video release “The Clanging of the Swords, part 4”, published in May 2014. The video shows IS in the early stages of conquest and consolidating territory in the al-Anbar province of Iraq. Ali Fisher, Nico Prucha, Is this the most successful release of a jihadist video ever?, Jihadica, May 2014, http://www.jihadica.com/is-this-the-most-successful-release-of-a-jihadist-video-ever/

[7] The black flag comprises a centric grey circle imprinted with (from down upwards) “Muhammad – rasul – allah”, a reference to the Islamic creed “There is no God (allah) but God and Muhammad is the messenger (rasul) of God.” The symbolic is amplified as this exact layout and wording had been the seal of the prophet (khatim al-nabawiyya) whereas the contemporary jihadists further seek to position a monopoly of truth by signing documents and by placing the flag as an expression of divine will and power. The use of the Prophetic seal, placed not only on the flag but also to sign ‘official Islamic State’ documents and rulings, is served as a nonnegotiable authority, backed by the interpretation and application of Qur’an and Sunna – speaking in the name of God and His messenger, Muhammad, furthering the belief of being in a direct lineage to divinity and expressing the entitlement of the soldiers of God (jund allah).

[8] The manifestation of pro-AQ styled jihadist groups, exercising violence or ‘soft-power’ such as restoring basic infrastructure and handing out supplies to the Sunni population is evident by the trans-national appearance of the Ansar al-Shari’a network. The Ansar al-Shari’a groups propagate openly jihadist iconography and a similar rhetoric based on the fundamental teachings of AQ. The Libyan branch based in Bengazi and Derna as well as the chapter in Tunisia had been declared by the U.S. State Department as “foreign terrorist organizations” and “global terrorist entities” following the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, September 11, 2012. Thomas Joscelyn, State Department designates 3 Ansar al Sharia organizations, leaders, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/01/state_department_des_2.php, January 10, 2013.

[9] Mu’assasat al-Ma’sada al-I’lamiyya / Fursan al-Balagh al-I’lam (eds.), Bayan nusrat al-ansar li-ikhwanihim al-Mujahidin al-abrar, https://shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=212520, October 10, 2013. This statement is signed by the most influential contemporary jihadi media key figures.

[10] Mu’assasat al-Ma’sada al-I’lamiyya / Fursan al-Balagh al-I’lam (eds.), Bayyan nusrat al-ansar li-ikhwanihim al-Mujahidin al-abrar, 3-5.

 

 

“Islamic State” Briefing

Posted July 16, 2017 by Nico Prucha
Categories: ISIS, Social Media Sunni Extremist Activism

This is a mini-series on the “Islamic State” – from the perspective of the Arabic language materials. Often times, the Arabic language output of Sunni extremist groups is not reflected sufficiently. Analysts are quick to claim that IS is in decline, yet do not acknowledge the continuous output of Arabic materials, no matter if in writing or videos. These aspects will be briefly addressed as well in this short series entitled “Islamic State” Briefing.

Part 1: The “Islamic State” & Social Media – from Theory to Implementation

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Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaida (AQ) and the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (IS) use the Internet as a communication hub to broadcast their messages. Online jihad is a phenomenon that has spread on a massive scale and at fast pace over the past sixteen years. IS in particular, puts much effort into its online operation, including maintaining and re-establishing accounts and networks on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Telegram. Huge amounts of jihadist audio, video and written content can be found on these networks, mostly in Arabic.

IS has moved from Twitter to Telegram, after a mass amount of account suspensions and more effective spam filters limited the group’s appearance on Twitter. However, the move to Telegram allows IS to operate from the “dark web”[1] and orchestrate media raids and sting attacks into the “surface web”, such as Twitter and Facebook. Several hundred IS channels on Telegram ensure that the content, the videos and writings, of IS are disseminated without much interruption.

This content conveys a coherent jihadist worldview, based on theological texts penned by AQ ideologues as far back as the 1980s. The jihadists’ need for spreading theological writings has driven the development of audio-visual productions as far back as the 1980s. The purpose, back then as today, is to document who the “mujahidin” are, what they are fighting for, and who they are fighting against. It is important to stress, that no single political narrative and enemy perception exists among the militants. Rather, groups such as IS and AQ enforce a coherent theology, that makes up the foundation of what is often referred to as “ideology” in Western discourse, as outlined by Rüdiger Lohlker: “Indeed, it is crystal clear—to virtually anyone who has the linguistic capacity to grasp and the opportunity to witness what jihadists are actually saying, writing and doing, both online and offline—that religion matters.”[2]

Following 9/11, the Internet became the general platform for AQ to spread its brand of Sunni extremist theology. This theology, carved out by AQ in the 1980s, entered a new evolutionary phase in 2014 when ISIS declared a “Caliphate.”[3] This AQ offshoot then became the central organization’s primary rival, developing a massive foothold on social media sites, first Twitter[4], now Telegram, while AQ lost significant support, both online and offline.[5] AQ has the ideological seniority, projected by senior jihadist scholars (shuyukh al-jihad) such as Abu Qatada al-Filistini or Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisis, who criticized IS’ declaration of an Islamic state and disagreed with the killing of the captured Jordanian combat pilot Mu’adh al-Kasasiba. IS has proven time and again practicality, having managed to translate territorial control and alleged governance into a coherent and highly professional structured online output. IS uses AQ’s theology on two ends: (i) applied theology documented by the massive amount of videos released throughout the past three years. What AQ theorized IS puts into practice and films it, while (ii) either re-publishing AQ theological writings (lengthy books, articles, religious guidelines, legal binding documents (fatwas), military handbooks etc.) or by simply releasing a second, third edition of an AQ book.

Jihadist videos are a powerful tool – even more so when echoing from within territory that is defined as “Islamic”. Such definition is proven by IS videos by, for example, claiming to document the application of sharia law and enforcing upon society to abide to a lifestyle romanticized in salafi/ salafi-jihadist writings. The massive production and release of videos on Twitter (2013-2015) was a game changer acknowledged by a Ahrar al-Sham sympathizer on Twitter: “#dangers on the path of jihad; my knowledge on jihad is based on professional produced jihadist videos affecting the youth more than a thousand books or [religious] sermons.”[6]

Under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS[7] adopted al-Qaida’s iconography and doctrine, without being subject to its formal leadership.[8] The Internet served as a powerful tool that allowed the jihadist network to morph and spread in many directions. IS dedicates time and resources to maintain a persistent output of videos and other items – with Telegram being the primary hub to strategically dispatch new content since early 2016.

[1] The name “dark web” is often used to refer to the part of the Internet which is neither indexed nor visible by search engines such as Google and not accessible by using standard browsers such as Microsoft Edge or Apple’s Safari. Most dark websites are part of the onion network, can only be accessed using the Tor Browser which provides a high degree of anonymity to users to access websites in general. Andy Greenberg, Hacker Lexicon: What is the Dark Web? Wired, September 19, 2014,

https://www.wired.com/2014/11/hacker-lexicon-whats-dark-web/

[2] Rüdiger Lohlker, Why Theology Matters – The Case of ISIS, Strategic Review July –September 2016, http://sr-indonesia.com/in-the-journal/view/europe-s-misunderstanding-of-islam-and-isis

[3] “Statement regarding the Relationship of the Qa’idat al-Jihad group to ISIS” (in Arabic) Markaz al-Fajr li-l I’lam, https://alfidaa.info/vb/showthread.php?t=92927. Accessed February 2, 2014. Al-Qaeda Central issued this statement distancing themselves from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham with the refusal of ISIS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to pledge allegiance (bay’a) to AQ-amir Ayman al-Zawahiri. As a consequence, the Syrian revolution against al-Assad was further divided with various ‘rebel’ factions turning on each other – including Jabhat al-Nusra, the official branch of AQ turning on ISIS and vice versa. The clash – or fitna (tribulation) – between ISIS and JN as well as other factions is the manifestation of two torrents: the claim of seniority posed by AQ and its Syrian franchise Jabhat al-Nusra versus the practicality of theIslamic State” which advanced what AQ pledged to fight for: the establishment of a Caliphate. Joas Wagemakers refers to ISIS as the Zarqawiyyun, practical military orientated individuals who seek to implement their principles of faith by brute force versus the Maqdisiyyun, adherents of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi who criticized the “Islamic State” for its apparent rapid move in declaring a Caliphate. For further reading: Joas Wagemakers, A Quietist Jihadi – The Ideology and Influence of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, 2012.

Cole Bunzel referred to this rift as “two tendencies predominate among jihadis insofar as the Syrian war is concerned: one favoring the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and cooperation with all rebel groups, and another favoring ISIS and its exclusionary political designs as the reborn Islamic state, or proto-caliphate.” Cole Bunzel. “The Islamic State of Disunity: Jihadsim Divided.” Jihadica, January 30, 2014, http://www.jihadica.com/the-islamic-state-of-disunity-jihadism-divided/.

See also: Khalil Ezzeldeen and Nico Prucha. “Relationship between ISIL and local Syrian rebels break down, IHS Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, Islamic World Web Watch, April 2014.

[4] Ali Fisher. “How Jihadist Networks Maintain a Persistent Presence Online.” Perspectives on Terrorism, July 2015. http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/426. Accesed August 1, 2015.

[5] Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), the Syrian AQ affiliate was first to use Twitter on a noticeable scale and facilitated the social media platform to disseminate propaganda videos and writings. The JN-IS divide caused JN to lose members, fighters, and media activists to the “Islamic State”. Further reading: Nico Prucha and Ali Fisher. “Tweeting for the Caliphate – Twitter as the New Frontier for Jihadist Propaganda.” CTC Sentinel (Westpoint), June 2013, http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/tweeting-for-the-caliphate-twitter-as-the-new-frontier-for-jihadist-propaganda

[6] Khalid Abu Anas (@khaled852111), October 10, 2015. All Arabic translations by author.

[7] At the time the “Islamic State” referred to itself as dawlat al-Islamiyya fi l-‘Iraq wa-l Sham (ISIS), then shortened its name after the declaration of the Caliphate to IS or dawlat al-khilafa.

[8] See Cole Bunzel, The Islamic State of Disobedience: al-Baghdadi Triumphant, Jihadica, October 5, 2013, http://www.jihadica.com/the-islamic-state-of-disobedience-al-baghdadis-defiance/

Jihadi Twitter Activism – Introduction

Posted April 27, 2013 by Nico Prucha
Categories: jihadica, online jihad

The posting with all links is available on the jihadica blog
http://www.jihadica.com/jihadi-twitter-activism-introduction/

Ali Fisher and I have recently exchanged thoughts and data regarding the increasing Jihadi use of Twitter. By taking an interdisciplinary approach of social-media analysis and cluster network assessment, we decided to start a series on Jihadica on the parts of the overall jihadi, primarily Arabic language propaganda resonating among the audiences online. We plan on delivering updates on the subject as we move along and kick-off the series with an overall introduction to the theme.

In future posts in the series, we will highlight and decipher some of the core content most often shared on Twitter, allowing conclusions to be drawn about the parts of jihadist propaganda which resonate with a wider audience (and hence shared over and over again).

Introducing the theme

The recent essay by Abu Sa‘d al-‘Amili on the state of global online jihad (discussed here) lamented a general decline in participation in jihadi online forums. Furthermore, al-‘Amili issued a “Call (nida’) to the Soldiers of the Jihadi Media” demanding that they “return to their frontiers (thughur)” elevating their status. Al-‘Amili himself is one of the high-profile clerics, a “prolific “Internet Shaykh” (Lia) on the forums, but is also quite active on twitter (@al3aamili).

Two interrelated causes identified by Abu Sa‘d al-‘Amili were the periods when forums were offline and the migration of users to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. This is exacerbated by the movement of “major [jihadi] writers and analysts” (kibar al-kuttab wa-l-muhallilin) from the forums to social media platforms. This has perhaps increased the momentum of members of tier-one jihad forums to expand onto twitter while twitter as a massive communication relay has become the basis for a new generation of sympathizers, posing another intersection. Twitter is a further medium of choice to (re-) disseminate propaganda material in general and is a platform where activists, sympathizers, and actual fighters upload audiovisual and other types into the jihadi hub.

Jihadists have aggressively expanded the use of twitter, in addition to Facebook and YouTube, especially since the outbreak of violence in Syria. During 2011 members of Jihadist forums issued media-strategies and advisory to fellow members prior, as for example is stated in this posting here of the al-Ansar forum. The posting, initiated by the member Istishhadiyya is basically a very elemental guide, comprehensive and for beginners, highlighting the effective and fast communication capability. The same posting was copy-and-pasted by Shumukh member Basha’ir shortly afterwards. A handbook, compiled by Twitter user @osamh ended up on the jihadi forums to further underline the importance of Twitter as well as its difference to Facebook, where jihadists already have a strong presence.

It took a while for jihadi activism to fully unravel on Twitter, and they have maintained a cohesive as well as detailed presence on this social media platform since the Syrian conflict turned violent in 2012.

Twitter, and as such social media in general, is in the meantime an integral part of jihadists’ media endeavors on the Internet, with the majority of jihadi forums having their official account advertised for on the main pages of the forums.

The role of the media activists, or in jihadist speak the “media mujahid” has since the death of Osama bin Laden in May of 2011 been promoted, highlighted and approved. AQ related documents have made this role model prominent. The role model of the “media martyr” any “media mujahid” can be become, is backed by the call to take the fight on a greater level on al channels online issued by al-Fajr in their response of the killing of bin Laden:

“The Internet is a battlefield for jihad, a place for missionary work, a field of confronting the enemies of God. It is upon any individual to consider himself as a media-mujahid, dedicating himself, his wealth and his time for God.” (Analysis here, Arabic original here)

At first, the strategies to promote Twitter among members of jihadi forums failed to develop substantial traction, but this changed drastically during 2012. When jihadists in and outside of Syria started to use and incorporate twitter as a medium to disseminate and re-post al-Qa’ida and other propaganda material.

Twitter activism and jihadi supporters

At first Syrian non-violent activists used, and continue to use, twitter as a medium to document human rights abuse and war crimes of the Assad regime, but jihadists quickly adapted that content and the platform for their propaganda.

Social-media smart and professional jihadists adopted this treasure grove for their propaganda. By rebranding and reframing the content created by civil society activists, jihadi propaganda used these grievances to support a key jihadist self-perception; the obligation to respond by force to defend and protect the Sunnites in Syria.

Due to the effect and success of the Syrian based Jihadi groups, other jihadi groups as well as the main forums are adopting the twitter activism, advertising official forum accounts on the main pages with users within the forums using twitter hashtags (#) or references to twitter users (for example: @al_nukhba). A list of “The most important jihadi and support sites for jihad and the mujahideen on Twitter” was recently posted on the Shumukh al-Islam forum, allowing users to identify key accounts they might wish to follow.

Individual sympathizers and all those feeling inclined to contribute to the media jihad re-disseminate authoritative files of al-Qa’ida on twitter on a larger scale. Now all major jihadi media departments, part of militant networks, have their own channels on Twitter, linking to content from the jihadi forums and other social media platforms, primarily YouTube, Facebook, and pictures in general.

Twitter has turned into a primary hub for the distribution of jihadi agitprop files. These Jihadi information sharing networks using Twitter coexist, autonomously, with the classical forums. These networks carry, for example, samples of the wide range of jihadi propaganda files, in some cases placed first on Twitter, posted via mobile phones from the front lines. As a brief overview, a few samples consisting of:

 

  • martyrs in general and martyrdom operatives (istishhadiyyun) announced and identified by their hashtag and Twitter account;
  • calls for donations with phone numbers and social media contact information; taking care of the orphans of the martyrs among other civil elements;
  • general material of incitement, and the impact of online attained propaganda files used offline are popular and gain plenty of traction,

What are they sharing?

In addition to disseminating their own propaganda, jihadi media activists repurpose content from social movements and non-jihadi groups for their own purposes, framing the non-jihadi actions or demonstrations as part of the global militant struggle. This has created another ‘grey area’ where analysts have to carefully monitor and decipher such content. The forum administrators and media-activists also are starting to incorporate and misuse Twitter for their purposes, in coordinated attempts to virtually infiltrate legitimate social movements by using the same hash tags and a similar rhetoric to create ideological cohesion – and placing extremist views and files in that virtual sphere while claiming to fight on the ground for the sake of the people.

To analyze jihadi media networks, their sympathizers and followers we have used a combined approach focused on a unique interdisciplinary analysis of the data acquired by technical means and the subsequent and immediate analytical process of its content.

Using these methods we have asked a range of questions, how have jihadi propagandists been able to gain traction and a foothold online? How do they disseminate propaganda content to a global, multilingual audience and what resonates most with that audience? What are the networks through which their content flows and what are the different roles users play within these networks? Ultimately do the different jihadi twitter accounts reach a range of different communities, or is it a small densely interconnected echo chamber?

 

Fatwa calling for the death of the director, producer, and actors involved in making the film”Innocence of Muslims”

Posted September 18, 2012 by Nico Prucha
Categories: jihadica

With my dissertation coming to an end, I finally had some nerve and time to write a new posting at jihadica.com:

http://www.jihadica.com/fatwa-calling-for-the-death-of-the-director-producer-and-actors-involved-in-making-the-film-‘innocence-of-islam’/

Here is the full text, the embedded links in the text may not work as I am copying and pasting it from my jihadica posting:

Yesterday, Ahmad ‘Ashush published a fatwa on the jihadist forums where he “decrees and calls on all Muslim youth in America and in Europa to fulfill this inescapable obligation. Namely, to kill the director, producer and the actors and anyone who helped to promote this film.” The fatwa was published by the relatively new al-Bayan media group that has established itself in the jihadist forums since the turmoil in Egypt. The media group acts in parallel to the al-Faruq media battalion, which has in the meantime published several videos showing Egyptian cleric Ahmad ‘Ashush with other renowned jihadist scholars in Tahrir, such as Muhammad al-Zawahiri or Marjan Salim (videos here and here). Ahmad ‘Ashush first surfaced in the al-Shumukh forum a while ago with a lengthy interview talking about the Hizb al-Nur (here) and established himself as an Islamic authority clearly adhering to the “jihadist torrent” while his – as of now – few writings are online over at al-Maqdisi’s Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad website (here).

This fatwa, however, is not unique and certainly nothing new from ‘Ashush. In July, the German GIMF department (probably courtesy of Austrian-Egyptian leader Muhammad Mahmud, aka Abu Usamah al-Gharib) posted a German translations of ‘Ashush’s article “an outcry… Supporting our prophet” (German). This was a direct reaction by ‘Ashush to events in Germany demanding the death of those who insulted the prophet by showing the Danish Muhammad Cartoons, attacking both the German government as well as demanding the beheading of the defamers in Europe. A violent clash preceded ‘Ashush’s reaction when salafist-jihadists in Germany clashed with police in Bonn and Solingen in May this year. ‘Ashush wrote: “There are free youth among the Muslims, living in Europe, who became angry for the prophet. They went out to defend his honor. The Germans beat, humiliated and arrested them. So, where are you in support of them?”

The German-language propaganda departments had plenty of new materials and produced videos and published reaffirming translations justifying violence in support of the prophet. Again, GIMF published a German translation of al-Maqdisi’s writing “The Drawn Sword against those who Insult the Lord, the Religion or the Messenger of God” (Arabic and German). This is based on the historical writing of Ibn Taymiyya, available on al-Maqdisi’s site here.

The protests that turned violent were directed against a German ultra-rightwing minority party “PRO-NRW” who succeeded in instigating the German salafists by showing the Muhammad cartoons on billboards. With the police in the middle, the salafists counter-demonstration turned violent and led to many arrests. In a video entitled “In Reih und Glied standen sie für Rasulullah” (They stood in a single file for the messenger of God – here, note the Arabic opening nasheed) violence to defend the honor of the prophet is further justified and sanctioned, depicting the salafists as ‘true’ believers and real men. Shortly after, Abu Ibraheem (Yasin Chouka), one of the German propagandists of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan called for the “death of Pro-NRW”, re-affirming the obligation to “kill those, who insult the prophet, no matter if they are Muslims or disbelievers.” (here)

Two similar writings of Ahmad ‘Ashush – the ‘Muhammad-movie-fatwa’

In his self-entitled fatwa yesterday, ‘Ashush repeats basic sentiments he had addressed as a response to the insult of the prophet in Germany. In both legal decrees, ‘Ashush cites the Qur’an (al-Ahzab: 6):

“The Prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than they have on themselves, and his wives are (as) their mothers.” (trans. by Shakir)

‘Ashush seeks to act as a high-profile ideologue, citing in length the hadith and drawing on Ibn Taymiyya. “Killing them [the movie affiliates] is a duty for every capable Muslim. The killing of the aforementioned is prescribed by Islamic law (…).” Stating two examples, Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, a Jew, that Ibn Taymiyya in detail analyzed and a woman who had insulted the prophet, ‘Ashush makes his case clear that “the prophet had commanded the killing of al-Ashraf” as well as the killing of a woman, as stated later. For ‘Ashush this serves as proof that anyone “offending the prophet, even Muslims, are sentenced to death for this.” Independent of Muslim or non-Muslim, man or woman, the blood of those insulting Muhammad must be shed. “For this is the ruling of the prophet”. ‘Ashush recounts the hadith of a female companion who on the account of a blind man insulted Muhammad and was subsequently put to death for her insults. The blind man had been her husband and he was the one who had killed her with his knife. He then stated to Muhammad the reason: “o messenger of God, I am her husband and she insulted you often (…) yesterday she insulted you and I took a knife and stabbed her in her stomach (…). The messenger replied: “so then witness her blood shed””.
This hadith, for ‘Ashush, provides enough argumentation to oblige Muslims to act accordingly, listing four key arguments:

As the man had been blind and a companion of the prophet most aware of the shari’a, the woman insulting the prophet had been killed. She had been his wife, killed by him.
Referring to the citation of the Qur’an, the prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than anyone else – even if this woman has children, or is the wife of a companion, she must be executed for her insult.
This accounts for no matter what standing of position her children have;
Or her position being a companion of the prophet, being in his service. “Killing her for insulting the prophet is pleasing for God, the Lord of the Worlds.”
Following a typical jihadist rhetoric, ‘Ashush repeats his statements of his writing in response to the insulting of the prophet in Germany, asking where the true scholars of Islam are, refuting the ‘state-owned’ ‘ulama’.

Jabha al-Nusra – a New Jihadi Group in Syria

Posted January 25, 2012 by Nico Prucha
Categories: Jihadist Ideology, online jihad, Syria

Announced a couple of days ago, as an important and urgent message without providing further information, users already ‘hoped’ a new jihadi group would be announced. Their hopes are being held up high, as of today Syria ‘officially’ has a jihadi group of its own, with, as it is en vogue for years and years to come, its own media outlet. The media outlet, al-Manarah al-Bayda, something like the white lighthouse, the beacon of light/hope in contrast to Hizbullah’s al-Manarah channel, perhaps, addresses the “people of Sham” for this is a “historic event”

We shall what the video reveals, so far the content provided shows the usual rhetoric and ideology that we know of. The focus on Sham (greater Syria) is not really new, but now, since the Arab Spring is increasingly being hijacked by Islamists and fighting ones in Libya and Syria, the jihadist media is daring enough to openly claim such language from inside.

AQIM issues statement kidnapping 5 EU citizens

Posted December 12, 2011 by Nico Prucha
Categories: AQIM (al-Qaeda in Africa, primarily Algeria, Mali and Mauretania), online jihad

In a statement just published on the usual jihadist online fora, AQIM via its al-Andalus media department claims the kidnapping of 5 Europeans and the displacement inside of Mali.
Interestingly, and most threatening for the hostages, is the claim that two Frenchmen among the kidnapped are “French spies”. The statement was published today, 12.12., but is dated to 7.12.
Two operations are claimed, first “in the east of Mali, the mujahideen were able to kidnap two men of the French intelligence”. The names, in Arabic transliteration, are provided with the claim of having conducted the kidnapping on November 24, 2011.
The second operation, on November 25, 2011, in Timbuktu led to the taking of the three other EU citizens whose nationalities are not disclosed in the statement.
In a third note, AQIM denies any attempt of kidnapping foreigners in Algeria at this time.

Why Mali?

While France is the most visible enemy and threat for AQIM, the address and the demands are directed to the governments of Mali and France. The alleged French spies are just another episode in the “continued hostilities” of the respective governments “against the Muslims in the Sahel”.
French and US efforts in combating al-Qa’ida are always perceived and reproduced by the jihadist propaganda as a combined threat and a dual manifestation of the enemy.
AQIM therefore kidnapped foreigners in Mali and keeps them there to exercise pressure on r government of Mali and to punish it at the same time. Concretely, not demands, but issues of grievance prior to the kidnappings are issued:
1. The case of Muhammad al-Amin who was extradited to Mauretania;
2. The case of Abu Sa’id al-Azwadi;
3. Abu Yunus al-Mali;
4. The Mali-Mauretanian joint military operation agains the mujahideen;
5. The rebuilding of an air base inside of Mali used by France to fight the mujahideen by aerial means and measurements.

The statement concludes by the expression of grief, French participation in Afghanistan, the appeasement by Mali to the west by imprisoning and killing Muslims. “if you want the soonest release of our hostages, and to protect their lives, you must answer the legitimate demands of the mujahideen” as is addressed in particular to the government of France.