The Context of the Manchester Bombings in the Words of the “Islamic State” onTelegram 



Four days after the Manchester bombing that left 23 dead and 116 wounded, a document was released by an IS affiliated media production house on Telegram, justifying the attack, entitled “Permissibility to attack the British public by explosives”.

This Arabic language text has not played any role, in the media reporting or the wider academia, to understand the motivation behind this terrorist attack – in the words of the terrorists. The same re-occurred when a similar text was released days after the March 2016 Brussels or the August 2017 attack in Barcelona, as discussed by Rüdiger Lohlker. It almost seems that ISIS has the luxury of disseminating their coherent extremist writings well knowing it reaches their target audience and bypasses most of the non-Arabic speaking counter-terrorism, media and academic analysts. Yet, the explanations of the Brussels attack in March 2016 had been published on Twitter in the phase of IS’ migration to Telegram. Apart from exclusive publications on Telegram since the first half of 2016, the target audience is the wider range of ISIS sympathizers mindset who are already initiated into this mindset – and where most speak Arabic. Such texts rarely matter in English and French and convey authority in Arabic, basing justifications of attacks – no matter by which modus operandi – on theological concepts, references, nuances and sentiments. Hence, these texts are intended first and foremost for an audience that is already initiated into the Arabic language universe of Sunni extremism and that, if individuals want, can contribute to “media raid operations” and re-disseminate and broadcast such materials outside of Telegram.

The author of the document used the term “English” instead of “British”, giving way to a greater frame of reference of the need to defend oneself against the “English Empire” and the principles of colonization (protecting cultural identity etc.). The use of “English” instead of “British” in this context furthermore denotes the global jihadist necessity to uproot foreign influence into what the jihadist perceives as “core Islamic” territories and communities.

The document so far has only surfaced on Telegram and does not have the outreach beyond Isis supporting networks on Telegram, where thousands of members and sympathizers of the group conveniently can chat to each other and share media content of the state. The document is in Arabic and thus limiting its outreach to the bunch of non-Arabic speaking sympathizers or non-IS affiliated individuals worldwide who seek to promote themselves by sharing or tweeting about English language terrorist content such as the multi-lingual IS magazine “Rumiyya”.

The document is, as most Sunni extremist content, conveying to its target audience of either already initiated members or those who seek answers based on the actions of Isis – in this case the bombing in Manchester.

The style of the document and the argumentation therein follows a classical Sunni extremist language and Habitus that has been made popular by 1980s ideologue and bin Laden companion Abdallah Azzam and used by theological leaders such as al-Suri in the early 2000s.

The document was penned by Abu Mariya al-Asif and released by the text production media outlet al-Wafa’. The three page long document gives the readership in an Islamic scholarly fatwa styled fashion arguments, based on existent Islamic literature, why the attack against the British public is not only legitimate but also obligatory.

The Document contains three pages of text. The text is structured as a classical orthodox-conservative religious ruling, citing passages of the Quran and Sunna as well as historical scholars, to enforce and back arguments. IS claimed in their statement to have attacked the mushrikin, a reference, used for “polytheists” in the wider sense. The first line of the text cites Quran 9:36 as the divine commandment to do so – while the term mushrikin is applied mainly to Muslims in violation of the “oneness of God”, yet applied here in the reading of AQ’s Abu Yahya al-Libi[1], defining any Christian as a muskrik. A mushrik is someone who associates partners next to god – hence violating the monotheistic hegemony of god – and thus being a legitimate target for IS who claim to embody the absolute hegemony of god. Christians, following the work of Abu Yahya al-Libi, in most cases adhere to the trinity principle (father, son, holy spirit), are defined as mushrikin.  Furthermore, as the target has been a pop-concert of a famous singer, attracting and appealing to in particular young fans, who indeed oftentimes look up to their idols in an almost religious-glorifying style, the deeper meaning of the theological principle of mushrik was clearly conveyed to the followers, sympathizers and members of IS.

The author of the document, Abu Mariya al-Asif, equates the attack in Manchester by “the soldiers of tawhid”, the “oneness of god”, to the actions of “the English within Islamic territories and the countries of Muslims in general. [British] bombs and death [of Muslims], for none of the [British] bombs or their allies discriminate our women, our children, our livestock or our agriculture; for the Christian tyrants are keen to enforce a policy of scorched earth upon Muslims. Just as the Germans enforced it before [during WWII], as we can read in the books of contemporary history.”

“My brother by god: anyone who relates oneself to Islam feels great joy regarding the attack that one of the soldiers of the caliphate undertook in the city of Manchester. Only those who are ignorant of the Islamic shari’a protest attacks such as this one within the abode of the disbelieving crusaders. Or agents who serve their Christian and Jewish masters, and in the land of the English there are plenty of these.”

The author seeks to give shari’a knowledge, which is relevant to the Islamic jurisprudence used by IS for such attacks to his readers, stating: “we will give you shari’a proof regarding the permissibility to strike the countries of the disbelieving crusaders.”

Al-Asif cites two verses of the Quran, Surat al-Nahl: 126 and al-Baqara: 194 as proof of concept to exercise an-eye-for-an-eye:

“If you [believers] have to respond to an attack, make your response proportionate”, Surat al-Nahl (“the Bee”), 126;[2]

“So if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you”, Sural al-Baqara (“the Cow”), 194.[3]

These two verses have been frequently used by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi (2004/5) to behead western hostages as revenge for the US occupation of Iraq or the beheading of seven captured Russian special police officers in Chechnya whereas Yusuf al-‘Uyairi (2003) – former bin Laden bodyguard and leader of the first generation of AQAP in Saudi Arabia – provided the shari’a relevant sanctioning. With the British engagement to combat IS military, the author argues, the need to react is now even more pressing than before. “It is obligatory to act against these disbelievers and to kill anyone of them according to the ability of any individual Muslim. In our religion, there is no discrimination between [killing] their civilians or soldiers; the only discrimination relevant is between the disbeliever who has any form of contract with Muslims and he who is a war faring disbeliever.[4] Yet those societies we speak of here are disbelievers who are active at war against us and have ruled upon us death.”

Al-Asif then continues defining in a short paragraph the impermissibility for a Muslim to be harmful to any other Muslim, referencing the Quran and prophet Muhammad for “the believers are brothers”. The principle of mercy and compassion has to be weighed for the disbelievers drive a relentless campaign against Muslims. The above mentioned term mushrik refers to Muslims likewise who can fall victim to IS operations – just as was the case in the IS statement regarding the November 2015 Paris attack – refers to “westernized” or “Christianized / Judaized” Muslims who therefore are no longer “real Muslims” but mushrikin.

Closing with the citation of Quran al-Tawba: 36:

“kill the mushrikin at any time, if they first fight you – remember that god is with those who are mindful of him”, Surat al-Tawba (“the Repentance”), 36.

Al-Asif relates historical scholar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari and his work of the hermeneutical reading and interpretation of the Quran. Any “transgressor” of the theological principles referred to by key words such as mushrik and the opposing “profession of the oneness of God” (muwahhid) IS claims to embody, is a legitimate target, while the divine commandment extends to “supporting your Muslim siblings and assisting them against the enemy of god and their enemies in their home countries”. Part of this support, al-Asif explicitly states, consists of media work.

[1] Abu Yahya al-Libi, Daf ’ ar-rayn ’an asiri ’asabat al-kureen : Mabhath  mukhtasar hawl al-kureen al-ladhina ukhtadifuhum al-mujahidun fi Afghanistan,  Global Islamic Media Front, 2007.

The document – another Islamic jurisprudential analysis – was penned by al-Libi to justify online the release of South-Korean Christian missionaries kidnapped by the Taliban.

[2] The extremists omit the second part of 16:126 reading: “but it is best to stand fast.”

[3] This verse in particular refers to the holy month of Ramadan which omitted by the author here; the reference, however, is clear to any Sunni extremist who masters Arabic.

[4] This is a historical reference, defining the “abode of war” (dar al-harb) and the general dar al-kuffar, the “abode of the disbelievers.” Some kuffar naturally are permissible to travel to and maintain economic ties with the caliphate, if respective contracts have been issued by Islamic authorities. The second generation of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula in Yemen in the late 2000s called for the implementation of this concept, to keep foreign spies out while denying establishing military bases and wiping out any non-Islamic form of governance.