Archive for the ‘counter-counter-terrorism’ category

Notes on the “Salil al-sawarim” series: the theological framework – from Amsterdam to the “Islamic State”

November 16, 2017

SAS4 cover

The release of the video Salil al-sawarim (SaS) by ISIS’s media department al-Furqan in May 2014 demonstrated the sophistication of the jihadist use of social media to disseminate their video content. At the time, this had been Twitter – needless to write, Telegram as of early 2016 – and now in full swing as of end of 2017 – has replaced Twitter as the first entry point for new IS curated content. The Twitter metrics are detailed at Jihadica (two part series). Notions and sentiments visualized by videos such as Salil al-Sawarim over the past years have enabled to jihadists to project influence on a number of layers and levels, demonstrating how – in their mindset – Islamic territory has to be “restored” and “cleansed”. The first three Salil al-sawarim videos had been very popular, high quality edited and showed a mix of extreme obscene violence and ideology at play by IS’ predecessor “the Islamic State of Iraq”.

This post provides a few elements of  Salil al-sawarim 4, or the “clanging of the swords, 4”  as it provides an excellent example of a certain form of IS propaganda. More specifically, it is a key example of how IS uses theology to justify the actions of its fighters and legitimise its occupation of territory in Syria and Iraq – and the legacy it leaves behind as of end of 2017 with the loss of most of the territory the jihadists had managed to control, according to al-Quds al-Arabi.

The series Salil al-Sawarim is particularly illustrative of this emphasis on theology. Readers sufficiently initiated into the mainly Arabic language corpus of Sunni extremist theology will understand the title’s particular reference right away;[1] it refers to the book al-Sarim al-maslul ‘ala shatim al-rasul, “the Sharp Sword on whoever Insults the Prophet.” Its author is 13th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328 AD), who is often referred to as shaykh al-Islam (“the scholar of Islam) in the conservative / orthodox Arabic-Islamic framework.

Ibn Taymiyya is renowned for his “characteristically juridical thinking”[2] and viewed as a highly competent legal scholar. His writings are based – at least in part – on Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).

IT asSarim almaslul

Ibn Taymiyya has featured prominently in Sunni extremist thought since the 1980s, when AQ established this ideology. The “Islamic State” has based all of its audio-visual output on the theology penned by AQ. The crucial difference is that IS has the territory to implement and enforce this corpus of theology on the population of the self-designated “caliphate”.

Ibn Taymiyya provides a legal framework based on jurisprudential findings for killing “an insulter of the prophet, regardless whether he is a Muslim or a disbeliever”.[3] Whoever insults the Prophet, according to Ibn Taymiyya, “must be killed, no matter if he is a Muslim or disbeliever, and has no right to repent.”

Within the Sunni extremist mind-set, the sword must be drawn upon anyone who opposes their worldview and specific interpretation of Qur’anic sources or the hadith (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad). In various AQ and IS videos, a specific sound effect subtly underscores references to Ibn Taymiyya’s writings. This sound effect, popular within jihadist online subculture, is that of a sword drawn from its shaft, clanging in the process.

Jihadists have also used the writings of Ibn Taymiyya to justify specific attacks. For example, Muhammed Bouyeri cited Ibn Taymiyya’s book before killing Dutch filmmaker and Islam critic Theo van Gogh in November 2004 in Amsterdam:

“Shortly before he [Bouyeri] killed van Gogh, he circulated the theological tractate on the “heroic deed” of Ibn Maslama[4] per e-mail to his friends. It is one of the 56 texts Bouyeri wrote or distributed. The fatwa of Ibn Taymiyya was among them also in a short leaflet-form downloadable from tawhed.ws titled “The drawn sword against the insulter of the Prophet” (al-sarim al-maslul didda shatim al-rasul). It is likely that the text not only influenced Bouyeri’s decision to assassinate van Gogh, but also his method.

The text details how and why to kill targets, first of all because of insult (shatm, sabb, adhan) of Islam. Bouyeri tried to sever van Gogh’s head with a big knife after he had shot him several times. In the text we find the passage: “the cutting of the head without mercy is legal if the Prophet does not disapprove it.” Moreover, the text advises multiple times to use assassination as an act of deterrence. The slaughter of van Gogh in open daylight seems like a one-to-one translation into reality of the directives we find in the text.”[5]vanGogh_Buyairi

User-created content on Twitter praising the killing of Theo van Gogh, outlining the theological obligation to hunt anyone who insults Prophet Muhammad or God.[6]

In addition, AQ alluded to the writings of Ibn Taymiyya in a video claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing targeting the Embassy of Denmark in Pakistan in 2008[7] after a Danish newspaper published cartoon depictions of Muhammad.

Ibn Taymiyya is among several traditionalists and historical scholars who have explored the subject of avenging the Prophet Muhammad. The work by Jordanian-Palestinian jihadist scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi stands out in its attempt to clearly outline who can be killed legitimately for insulting Prophet Muhammad. Al-Maqdisi extends this beyond individuals, and says any government deemed to have insulted either the Prophet, God or religion in general is a legitimate target for reprisal.[8]

In January 2015 two brothers, apparently trained in Yemen by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, opened fire in the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. After the attack, a bystander filmed the Kouachi brothers shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet” (li-intiqamna al-rasul), before fatally shooting wounded French police officer Ahmad Merabet.[9] A video published on January 11, 2015 by the IS-affiliated media outlet, Asawitimedia, praised the attacks. The video is entitled “The French have insulted the Prophet of God – thus a merciless reaction.”

fransasabbu

“The French have insulted the Prophet of God”

There is a coherent message across jihadist writings, videos, and theological decrees that say vengeance restores the dignity of Prophet Muhammad. They command individuals worldwide to demonstrate their faith by responding violently to those who insult the Prophet.

IS’ fourth Salil al-Sawarim movie, in which retribution for insulting Prophet Muhammad is the underlying principle of a brutal and rapidly emerging sectarian war (harb ta’ifi), shows IS fighters seeking to exterminate the Shiites, portrayed as a group that has insulted the prophet, his companions, God, and in sum, Islam, since the early days of the religion. This is one of the key theological principles of “the Islamic State of Iraq” that then became even more important in the phase of conquest and expansion into Syria 2012 onwards. The countless videos by the then re-named “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” ensured to reformat its newley conquered territory – on the one hand, killing or forcing locals to join – or public “recant” and return to IS understanding of ahl al-Sunna wa-l jama’a – and on the other hand the systematic eradication of Sufi shrines, graveyards, sacred trees, Shiite mosques, Yazidi temples, Christian churches etc. as based on AQ’s penned and yet fiercly deployed theology by IS’ Godfather Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi – and embodied by the IS and the khilafa as tradition henceforth.

2014IRdes

Such nuances are at the very core of all Sunni extremist Arabic language releases – not since IS, but since the very 1980s. What we have witnessed is a subsequent expansion of theological steered acts across regions and countries where Sunni extremists in recent years have had the chance to set up a foothold – no matter how temporary that has been.

in the above sequences of screenshots  Ibn al-Qayyim, the disciple of Ibn Taymiyya, referred to as shaykh al-Islam by orthodox Muslims is cited in regards of the destruction of the “site of veneration by the rafidimushrikin”. The text serves as the jurisprudence for IS to act:

  • “it is not permissible [for Sunni Muslims] to leave the sites and places of shirk and idols untouched once the power to destroy them is established, even if just for one day. For these are the symbols of kufr and shirk are the from the greatest of evil. Therefore, it is not permissible to rule maintaining after conquering these sites.”
  • In Arabic: tawaghit, plural of taghut, a term used in reference of worldly tyrant rulers and idols, worshipped in violation of tawhid. The fight against taghut in jihadist mindset is bound by both elements – fighting worldly un-Islamic Arab regimes and thus restore the ‘true’ Islamic community (umma).

For example, SAS4 shows several sequences in which murdered Iraqi soldiers are described as Shiites, or rejectionists (rafida), a degrading term in Sunni extremist literature. The film marks Shiites as inferior humans who constitute the “interior enemy” because they are Arabs – in Iraq at the time as opposed to the Iranian intervention later. It follows that they are Islam’s most important foe and must be fought first and foremost.

Text and videos are not the only means of spreading the theoretical principle of avenging the Prophet; two of the most popular jihadist songs, or nashid, on YouTube reference Ibn Taymiyya and the notion of killing all those who insult Islam. A nashid by Abu Yaseer has had over 1.5 million views and can easily be retrieved online by searching for “Salil al-Sawarim”.[10] A related nashid with the title “the words [are now about action and hence] words of the sword” by Abu ‘Ali has over 3.5 million views.[11] The reference of the “sword” unites both nashid.

The four-part Salil al-sawarim series conveys three main themes:

  1. Punishment: It is legitimate to kill anyone considered a non-Sunni Muslim, in particular the Shiites of Iraq. Shiism
  2. by Sunni extremist standards is portrayed as a sect that has deviated from Islam and seeks to destroy Sunni Islam from within.
  3. Inclusion and representation: IS is shown operating carefully within Sunni territories in Iraq and Syria, assassinating key government figures and offering the Sunni majority a chance to reintegrate into the true Sunni community – represented solely by the “Islamic State” – by repenting (tawba) their sin of having worked for non-Sunni Muslims.

The chance to repent has become an integral part of IS strategy to consolidate newly-conquered territory. Key IS ideologues such as Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani have supported this strategy; it consists of annihilating key figures of the Iraqi government; punishing Sunnis who collaborated with the Americans or Shiites; and offering Sunni police and soldiers a chance to be cleansed of their sins and restored as true members of the Sunni community by renouncing their past actions and swearing allegiance to al-Baghdadi.

Salil al-sawarim has turned into a popular and active meme online. It fosters IS identity and creates role models in a fandom-styled environment where users can create and upload their own images to praise videos like SAS and the worldview they depict.

IS has become more than an idea or a physical movement. It has managed to spread its “values” and theological reference points across a wide range of online platforms in a number of languages, primarily Arabic.

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

[2] Wael b. Hallaq: Ibn Taymiyya against the Greek Logicians. Translated with an introduction by Wael Hallaq, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, xxxiii.

[3] The book is available online on various websites and outlets, for example Dorar al-Sunniyya, www.dorar.net. A print version is available in most religious book shops in Arab countries. The image is a book cover illustration of a commented version published as: Ibn Taymiyya, al-Sarim al-maslul ‘ala shatim al-rasul li-shaykh al-Islam Taqiyy al-Din Ahmad bin ‘Abd alHalim Ibn Taymiyya al-Harrani, Shibra al-Khayma: Alexandria and Medina, 2008.

[4] As the author of the citation Philipp Holtmann explains, “terrorists are called upon to identify with the Muslim Ibn Maslama who volunteered to kill Muhammad’s critic Ka’b bin al-Ashraf.” Philipp Holtmann, Virutal Leadership in Radical Islamist Movements: Mechanisms, Justifications and Discussion. Working Paper, The Institute for Policy and Strategy, Herzliya Conference February 6-9, 2011, http://www.herzliyaconference.org/eng/_Uploads/dbsAttachedFiles/PhilippHoltmann.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] The text praises Muhammad Bouyeri as a jihadist role model. Not only has he acted to avenge the violation of van Gogh against religion in general, but rather he, according to the text, denounced the worldly law in the Dutch court, claiming to only acknowledge shari’a law.

[7]A video entitled al-qawla qawla al-sawarim, “the words [are now about action and hence] words of the sword”, shows the testimony of the suicide operative identified as a Saudi by the nom de guerre Abu Gharib al-Makki [the Meccan]. The one-hour video justifies the attack; “the time to talk is over, the time for actions (i.e the swords must be drawn) has come to avenge the insults of Prophet Muhammad”.

[8] Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, al-Sarim al-maslul ‘ala sabb al-rabb aw al-din aw a-rasul sala l-llahu ‘alayhi wa-salam, Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l Jihad.

[9] A detailed oversight is provided by the BBC, also outlining in depth the attack by IS member Amedy Coulibaly who executed several hostages in a Jewish supermarket, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30708237

Amedy Coulibaly uploaded a video where he pledges allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Part of his video is used in one of the ‘official’ IS videos to applaud the January 2015 Paris attack, Risala ila Fransa, Wilayat Salah al-Din, February 14, 2015.

[10] Hosted by the YouTube Channel “The Great Breakfast War” – the channel & link have been deleted. Thank you YouTube!

[11] This singer was featured in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula videos as far back as 2003/4.

10 methods to detect and foil the plots of spies – Abou Zakaria

January 11, 2011

Published 30 December 2010, Abou Zakaria, who is tagged as a Administrator in the notorious Al Majahden English Network Forum, provides some counter-intel measurements to be taken seriously by every Mujahid and sympathizers. The English section was just established recently, what perhaps explains the date Abou Zakaria joined (24.12.2010). He nevertheless has written over 60 postings. His postings include reposting English material of Anwar al-Awlaqi, the Story of the Lives of Prophets, stories from the Caucasian jihadists and especially about Gaza (for example this story) or the English GIMF booklet by Abu Khabbab al-Misri, where he warns “Please use precautions when downloading by using appropriate anonymizing software.” In this contribution, the “10 methods to detect and foil the plots of spies”, he describes how spies are sought to operate and tries to decipher their ways of attempting to gain both trust and knowledge. Taken that this is taken from the English branch of the Al Majahden (al-Mujahideen) forum, Abou Zakaria is mostly concerned about potential attackers in the West whose cells may either be infiltrated or individuals who are led astray by intelligence agents and thus charged under terrorism laws. The latter happened to Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the attempted Oregon suspect of Somali origin who wanted to strike during Christmas time, hoping to detonate a car bomb. Zakaria particularly references Mohamud (see point eight) and cautions his brethren of spies while aiming to provide some potential to disrupt, identify and counter agitate endeavours of the intel agencies. “in light of recent events, most notably the arrest of our brother in Oregon (may Allah keep him steadfast and free him), I have decided to record and write down 10 methods which, through my own personal experiences, will shed light onto the tactics used by spies and/or informants to entrap and ultimately arrest Muslims, and the ways to defect and foil these plots.”

What you find here is a shortened and somewhat revised version of the original posting:

  1. A spy will always start with “grooming.” A process that takes several months and includes the individuals willingness to be active on the forums or attend mosques before trying to make any bonds. Once they make contact, the dialogue is typically small. Such topics as translations, finding nasheeds, looking for a husband/wife, or best places for halal food are discussed, simply because they are low key. These are used to gain trust and not seem blunt, because bluntness (i.e. talking about Jihad from day one) raises red flags. A spy may groom their target for months before mentioning Jihad, and even then, they will start out small, with such topics as “did you like the new video by As-Sahab” or “what is your favorite Jihadi nasheed.”

     

  2. You may notice red flags in the form of lies and inconsistencies. Such red flags can include changes in stories, which are typically elaborated upon once you make it known that you are aware in the changes in their stories. For example, a spy may mention he is a student in an American university. However, being smart, you notice he comes online or is at the mosque during what would be normally considered as school hours. When you say “I thought you were in school” they will quickly change their story to accommodate with a statement such as “I am taking online classes” or “I only go to night school.” Watch for small things which may seem insignificant, such as the mentions of family members, a job, or knowledge of a particular topic. If it is revealed that this person has told one lie, even if it involves something small, take precautions that everything may very well be a lie.

     

     

  3. Other red flags include major statements. These typically include claims to be a member of a Mujahideen organization, or to be in contact with Mujahideen or particular scholars, or to have known personally or met various leaders of the Mujahideen. This should be obvious. Anyone who makes these claims is either a liar, or if they are truthful, then they are extremely unknowing when it comes to security, both for themselves and for the Mujahideen whom they [ought to] represent. [But this is of course highly unlikely, as it would be contrary to portrayed behaviour codes of any Muj].

     

  4. A spy will typically claim to be busy, most likely with school studies. This person will frequently make apologies for not being around as a result of studying for midterms or doing homework. Spies use this ploy to make themselves seem normal, as if they have a life that can be related to. This does not mean that some of the Mujahideen are not students, because some in fact are. However, if one really seeks Jihad, and in particular Shahadah by means of an Istishhadi or Fidaye mission, it is unlikely their primary focus is schooling. They excuse of schooling is used most frequently, as opposed to health problems or a job, possibly because a target who is being groomed may feel that an unhealthy person is unfit for Jihad or a person who has a job and thus pays taxes is in some ways a collaborator. Regardless of the reasons, this excuse and constant apology for a late reply, even if it is sent a day or two after your message to them, is quite common.

     

     

  5. Spies will ask their targets to be “specific” and “clear.” For example, if you say you say you are interested in Jihad, they will ask if you mean physical Jihad. If you mention you have knowledge of firearms, they will ask what kind of firearms and what do you know. One must watch their words at all times, or better yet, say nothing. They reason spies ask their targets to be precise is not because they don’t understand you, but rather because if and when you are arrested, they want to make sure a jury will understand what you meant and thus convict you. If you are vague then there is a chance a jury will not convict. If you keep your mouth shut, then there is a chance you will not even be arrested. A spy may or may not make threats themselves, but will wait for you to do the talking. After all, it you they want, and no matter what threats a spy says, he cannot get into any trouble for making them. They want you to talk and be specific.

     

  6. In the process of grooming, a spy will always accept you. They will accept your manhaj and not debate it, even if they say it is different from their own. Typical behaviors such as smoking, listening to music, or hanging photos are never condemned by spies if the target says that they do this; spies may in fact claim to even do these things themselves. They will always answer personal questions and take no offense when you ask, because after all, they are lying. If you are a revert to Islam and make mention of sinful behaviors in your life prior to accepting Islam, a spy will not seem to care at all. Spies never appear to get mad at or disagree with their targets, except under one condition. This condition is if they target appears to break away from or become disenchanted with the idea of Jihad. Then they spy will badger their target, typically by bringing up their past words or using techniques to make them feel guilty. Only if the target seems to be against the Jihad which the spy is talking about – whether it is al-Qaeda or Jaish-e-Mohammad.

     

     

  7. Ask yourself, what does this person trust you? In a world where literally anyone can be a spy, why does this person trust you? Why are they claiming to be a Mujahid, and telling this to a person who they met over a computer or at the mosque? Why are they telling you they want to conduct Jihadist operations or make hijrah [the emigration to the battlefields of jihad in its jihadist definition]? You cannot know if anyone is sincere, and this is the sad reality. Think about why they would trust you of all people, and not someone else. The answer is because they are seeking to arrest you, and this is part of their grooming process. [So, the question is who can you trust these days while, what Abou Zakaria claims, the Islamic communities are ‘flooded’ with agent provocateurs and governmental run instigators?]

     

  8. Now ask yourself, if they already trust you, why do they need you? If they want you to make hijrah with them, ask yourself why they are not going alone or with someone else. If they need someone to carry out an operation on the home-front, as yourself, what do they pick you. If you look at the events of Oregon and learn from them, you will see that it was a group of “brothers” who in fact spies that recruited our noble brother, may Allah free him. One can now ask himself “if there was already a group of brother, amongst them a bomb maker, why did they need someone else to drive the car?” [Maybe because Mohamud wanted to become an istishhadi and by thus receive the attention by both the media and by AQ sympathizes on the forums??} If an individual already claims to know how to build a bomb, why would they ask you to plant it? [Well, it is reasonable as a bomb maker to make as many as possible before going down?] Is it because they are afraid to die? Is it because they want to make more bombs? Or, or than likely, is it because they want to entrap you? This is especially true in such scenarios that contain multiple spies. If there is already a group who is claiming to be Mujahideen and preparing an attack, what do they need from you? If they claim to be Fidayeen, why do they need one more? [Self-sacrificial operatives] Why not recruit ten more, why not use one less? Why do they ask you to help them train if they already claim to have knowledge of firearms and explosives? Why do they need a cameraman; cannot one of them film the training? Sometimes when an operation is to be carried out, if is you who is asked to plant the bomb. Ask yourself why do they want you to plant they bomb or become the Fidaye? And if they already have a plan, why do they trust you, a relative stranger, to help them? These questions must be asked. [The problem is rather the willingness to die in such an operation and having the potential to recruit expendable followers who seek ‘martyrdom’ anyway? Zakaria has some good points but he simply doesn’t mention the effect the genre of jihad can have on individuals – for various reasons – such as Mohamud who sought to kill himself in a car bomb operation in Oregon. It may be true that a functioning cell has its operatives at hand but still can it be ruled out completely that recruits on the ‘home front’ are not entirely needed? The Oregon attempt and the FBI sting operation, however, have led to this dilemma for wanna-be jihadists and their hardcore siblings.]

     

  9. Spies will use excessive talk and training. Most operations, especially an istishhadi operation, does not need months upon months of training, but spies will make it appear as though it does. If they operation involves a bomb, there will be numerous dry runs or explosive demonstration. Why? For a shooting type Fidaye attack, spies will request months of training. Note also spies will more than likely ask to train on your property and to use your firearms if you have any. These types of operations do not need the types of planning spies often specify, and especially not the degree the specify. The first reason for this is to groom you and gain your trust. And the second reason is to ultimately delay the operation itself, which is, obviously a set up, after all. With regards to excessive talk, follow the aforementioned precautions of method five. Spies will want you to do all they talking. They will typically ask for your idea and your input and if you think anything can be changed or improved. They will ask you what you think would be a suitable target. They want for you to say that you desire to become an istishadi or that you seek to kill other people. Remember, silence is golden.

     

  10. Finally, if you suspect that you have fallen victim to entrapment of a spy, there are actions which should be taken. Obviously, you must cut all contact with the person you suspect of being a spy. However, beforehand it may be beneficial to tell them that you have in fact become disenchanted with Jihad. It may even be wise to claim that you have lost interest in Islam! Lie, lie, lie! Remember, this is a spy you are talking to. After which, it may be best to disappear. One need not give a reason, or they may use an excuse such as their wife is pregnant or they are moving away. It may be wise to change user names on forums or switch email accounts. Also important, if possible, do not let this individual know that you are aware that they are a spy. Otherwise, they may realize you are lying to them, and still continue to investigate you. And last but not least, warn anyone else who may have fallen victim to such entrapment, and reveal to them the aforementions methods used by spies.

     

Translation of RAND study

January 7, 2009

The jihadis have a careful and watchful eye turned to Western sources in general – it is nothing new that various media organs and studies are being discussed within the jihadi forums. For the common visitor, a group has translated the complete, as they say, study on “the end of terror groups” by RAND into Arabic and are disseminating this WORD document within the online spheres.

The Ultimate Sniper

October 16, 2007

Currently in all major forums: The Ultimate Sniper – a book (40MB PDf Scan; English) and a video (with Arabic subs) is ready to download. By Maj. John Plaster, who has been praised by the infamous IAI Juba sniper in his video some time ago:

 

The 580 page long book provides a detailed insight into sniper operations, for those interested here is a link leading to Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Sniper-2006-Advanced-Training/dp/B000FN2BSG/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-9219367-8179942?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1192561162&sr=8-1