Gaza Salafists Demand Submission of Hamas “Apostates”

Andrew McGregor

March 4, 2010

In a recent interview, a commander of the Masadat al-Mujahideen, a Gaza-based Salafist militant group, described his movement’s confrontation with Hamas, demanding that the Islamist movement “repent” its apostasy and stop fighting the Salafists “on behalf of the Jews” (Shabakat al-Tahadi al-Islamiya, February 16). Beset by internal dissension over prisoner swap negotiations with Israel, an international embargo, the cutting off of its tunnel smuggling system by Egyptian forces, and the assassination of a leading Hamas commander in Dubai, Hamas now faces an ongoing and often violent struggle with Salafist militants who reject Hamas leadership.

Ibn al-TaymiyaRepresentation of Shaykh Ibn Taymiya

Describing his movement as a “Salafist Jihadi group,” Shaykh Abu Ubaydah al-Ansari outlined the motivation of Masadat al-Mujahideen. “We gathered and agreed to support our religion and liberate our lands and sanctuaries, not out of patriotism, but as a compulsory Islamic duty. Whenever one expanse of the lands of Muslims is occupied, Muslims must liberate it, under Islam.” Typical of Salafi-Jihadi groups, Shaykh Abu Ubaydah goes on to cite the influence of Shaykh Ibn Taymiya (1263-1328), whose fatwa declaring nominally Muslim Mongol invaders “apostates” because their use of “man-made laws” rather than Shari’a gave the Mameluke rulers of Egypt and Syria the necessary religious justification to fight invaders who claimed to be fellow Muslims. In this context, Abu Ubaydah quotes Ibn Taymiya, “There is no more necessary duty – after faith – than pushing back the attacking enemy who corrupts the religion and the world, under any condition. Yet, if the enemy wants to attack Muslims, repulsing him is the duty of everybody, whether they volunteered or not.” Though Ibn Taymiya’s works remain controversial in Islamic theological studies, Salafists tend to imbue him with an authority just short of the Qur’an and the Hadiths in legitimacy. Ibn Taymiya’s influence is seen in Abu Ubaydah’s declaration. “He who applies manmade law and human legislation, whether he is a Palestinian or something else, becomes an infidel, and whoever resorts to it for judgment also becomes infidel and fighting him becomes permissible.”

Though Hamas has made significant moves in making Shari’a the law of Gaza, these efforts fall short of Salafist expectations. Abu Ubaydah refers to “imitations of Shari’a,” and asks, “What can we say about one who applies Shari’a as legislated by himself? There is no doubt that this person is an infidel, as agreed by all scholars, no matter how big his turban is, nor how small his garment.”

The Palestinian Salafists are also displeased with Hamas’ failure to prosecute a jihad against Israel and what they perceive as a decline in anti-Israel militancy on the movement’s part since it formed the Gaza government. “Formerly, they were fighting the Jews, but currently they fight those who fight and confront the Jews [i.e. the Salafists]… If they want to repent, stop their unilateral battle against us, and leave us alone, we will welcome their desire in order to devote ourselves to fighting the Jews. However, if they insist on fighting us on behalf of the Jews and to keep their positions, the conflict will not be settled… We believe that it is not permissible to reconcile with them for they have become apostates.”

This article first appeared in the March 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Whose Islam? Factionalization in the Somali Islamist Movement

Andrew McGregor

 A speech delivered at the conference – “The Changing Strategic Gravity of al-Qaeda,” National Press Club, Washington D.C., December 9, 2009

There are many forces at work in Somalia today that are intentionally or unintentionally tearing the country apart. Already afflicted by the scourges of clanism, tribalism, and separatism, Somalia is now being divided by the one factor that has always united it in the past – religion.

President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmed (Reuters)

With some exceptions, such as the Muslim Brothers, political Islam in Somalia is social activist rather than intellectual in nature. None of the militant Islamist movements in Somalia have produced any comprehensive statement of ideals and methods, least of all al-Shabaab, whose internal and external political program appears to consist largely of issuing threats against their opponents and neighbors. President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad appears to be one of the most thoughtful of Somalia’s Islamists, yet he has been strikingly unsuccessful in presenting a political program capable of capturing the imagination of Somalis. His implementation of Islamic law in Somalia means little so long as the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] controls only a few neighborhoods in Mogadishu.

In Somalia, the application of Islamic law in all legal matters is a major innovation. Until recently Somalis followed a customary law known as “Heer,” administered by elders rather than the government. Shari’a was reserved for family and inheritance cases. The imposition of Shari’a thus represents an extension of central authority into an essentially stateless society. The hasty implementation of Shari’a, however, has been done without the establishment of any consensus regarding the school of Islamic jurisprudence to be followed, among many other unsettled issues. Islamic law in south Somalia remains in the hands of the gunmen of the various armed opposition groups, who apply their own interpretation of Shari’a on an improvised basis.

Al-Shabaab’s Islam is of the Takfiri variety – in other words it seeks out all those who disagree with its crude variety of Salafism and condemns them as infidels. Needless to say, this is very polarizing and creates more enemies than friends, particularly in a country in which Salafism is a recent and unfamiliar intruder. This inflexibility in matters of religion is the main reason al-Shabaab has not yet taken Mogadishu and expelled the Transitional Federal Government. Instead of taking the capital last year, al-Shabaab chose to carry out a series of needless and unprofitable provocations against the vast Sufi religious community in Somalia, sparking the creation of a formidable Sufi militia dedicated not so much to the preservation of the TFG, as to the eradication of al-Shabaab. The Sufi militias are the militant expression of those Somalis who reject the introduction of the unfamiliar and untraditional Salafism promoted by al-Shabaab’s leaders.

Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys (Biyokulule)

The Takfiri approach of declaring a Muslim an apostate is based on a 13th century fatwa by Shaykh Ibn Taymiya, which declared an approaching but nominally Muslim Mongol horde as insincere in their allegiance to Islam, giving the Mamluk regime of Egypt and Syria the license they needed to combat fellow Muslims.  Al-Shabaab uses the apostate designation liberally, compelling Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of rival Islamist movement Hizb al-Islam, to condemn the “careless” and “detrimental” use of the term after al-Shabaab began applying it to Hizb al-Islam leaders. According to one such leader in the Juba region [Shaykh Abdinasir Serar], “al-Shabaab are after us because they regard us as infidels and they believe that anyone who opposes their policy has deserted the religion.”

In Sufi-dominated Islamic societies it is customary for the graves or tombs of noted Sufi shaykhs to become shrines and even places of pilgrimage for members of the Sufi orders. Salafists condemn this practice as un-Islamic and a violation of monotheism. In Somalia, al-Shabaab has engaged in the destruction of tombs belonging to venerated Sufi “saints.” In early December, 2008, al-Shabaab destroyed the tombs of several Sufi shaykhs in Kismayo, claiming Somali Sufis were worshipping the dead rather than God.

Again this year, just as al-Shabaab seemed ready to expel the TFG, it turned against its ally, the Hizb al-Islam Islamist militia, breaking its power-sharing agreement in the port of Kismayo. When the larger Hizb al-Islam movement objected, al-Shabaab began diverting resources to a new conflict with their former partners. A large al-Shabaab offensive in South Somalia in recent weeks has driven many Hizb al-Islam fighters out of the Juba valley across the border into the ethnic-Somali region of northeast Kenya. At the same time, the Sufis have mounted their own offensive against al-Shabaab in the adjacent Gedo region.

What separates al-Shabaab from the other movements in Somalia is the relentlessness of its attacks; Shabaab assassins are everywhere, tossing grenades into meetings of its rivals, gunning down politicians or driving bomb-laden vehicles into various security headquarters with devastating results. Two attempts have been made on the president this fall alone. Even mosques have become the target of bombs and grenades, a disturbing trend that follows patterns already seen in Iraq, Pakistan and Sudan. This ruthless tactical approach, which takes little heed of the lives of innocents, is beginning to resemble the worst excesses of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq – an explosion of almost senseless brutality inflicted on fellow Muslims.

In mid-November, Hizb al-Islam officials met with senior religious scholars in Mogadishu to examine ways of having the scholars play a more active role in resolving the conflict. The meeting was something of a breakthrough, since Hizb al-Islam is only one of a number of Islamist factions, including al-Shabaab, that have routinely ignored the fatwa-s of the religious scholars calling for an end to the fighting in Somalia. Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys, has given the TFG a list of demands to be met if Hizb al-Islam is to join a coalition government, an action sure to incite his partners in al-Shabaab, who refuse to have anything to do with the government in Mogadishu. Unfortunately for the shaykh, his power base is melting away as his followers turn their weapons over to al-Shabaab or flee to Kenya.

While al-Shabaab has received the verbal support of the core al-Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi, there are others in the Salafi-Jihadi movement who have cautioned al-Shabaab about their divisive approach.

After Hizb al-Islam and al-Shabaab came to blows over custody of two French intelligence agents snatched from their hotel in Mogadishu earlier this year, jihadi websites carried a long posting from so-called “Honest Scholars of Islam” advising the mujahideen to avoid disagreements and internal divisions. In their words; “Nothing is more harmful to jihad than division and conflict… You should know that uniting your ranks, words, and groups is more effective against the enemies of God almighty than dozens of operations… Beware of being lured into side battles that will exhaust you, weaken your power, disperse your efforts, and distract you.” The focus should remain on preparing for victory and empowerment. The scholars ask the Somali mujahideen to look to the future; if division and conflict occur now over the ruins of Mogadishu, “Imagine what will happen if you start fighting over money, leadership and power…?”

Shaykh Hamid al-Ali

Kuwait’s Shaykh Hamid al-Ali, one of the leading voices of Salafist ideology, says that the mujahideen must make greater efforts to win the Somali people over to their side. They must inform the people of their aims, and assure them that they are merely the continuation of the Islamic Courts Union, that ruled briefly in 2006, with, as Hamid al-Ali says, “reason, wisdom and righteousness.” Addressing al-Shabaab’s tendency to resolve all disputes by force, al-Ali reminds them that; “Power is used when it is needed and wise political action also has its place.”

Hamid al-Ali insists the transitional government of Shaykh Sharif is only an “Islamic façade” for a regional American plan. The president has added Islamic figures to his government, but these scholars either do not know the truth about him or have deceived themselves into thinking they will find the solution to Somalia’s troubles within “the framework of the ‘Muslim-American’ plan,” as he calls it. He compares the African Union force protecting the president to the NATO forces that guard the palace of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. According to the Shaykh, the president’s implementation of Shari’a was only an attempt to buy time until AFRICOM can achieve its objectives in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi

Jordanian Salafi-Jihadi ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the former mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, condemns Shaykh Sharif as an agent of the Antichrist [al-Masih al-Dajal] whose version of paradise is an “American hellfire of AIDS, moral deterioration, economic corruption, social ruin, and rejection of God`s laws.” The remarks followed the Somali President’s attack on the terrorist and takfiri tendencies of al-Shabaab. According to al-Maqdisi, the American campaign against terrorism is nothing less than “a war on Islam and jihad.” He rejects criticism of al-Shabaab’s unpopular implementation of severe hudud punishments for violation of Islamic law, citing a saying that applying one hudud sentence is better for the people than a week’s worth of rain. He goes on to describe the Saudi Wahhabi scholars who reject the “exaggeration and extremism” of al-Shabaab’s version of Islamic jurisprudence in favor of a faith of mercy and compassion as advocates of the Khawarjite ideology of deception and distortion. In al-Maqdisi’s view, Shaykh Sharif has irrevocably tainted himself through association with non-believers, calling on Muslims in Somalia and elsewhere to announce their support for al-Shabaab.

Earlier this year, Osama bin Laden issued an appeal to the people of Somalia to rise up and overthrow the government of Shaykh Sharif. There are other Islamists, however, who question these short-sighted calls for political violence. A leading member of Somalia’s Muslim Brotherhood [Dr. Kamal al-Hilbawi] said, “We want to know the form of government that bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri want in Somalia. They are neither satisfied with HAMAS, nor the Muslim Brotherhood organization, or the moderate leader, Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad.” Somalia’s Muslim Brothers have in turn been criticized on Salafist web forums. The Muslim Brothers opposed the Islamic Courts Union and all the active militant Islamist groups, favoring gradual and moderate Islamic reforms over political violence. One jihadi ideologue [Dr. Akram Hijazi] suggested the Brothers’ peaceful approach was designed to allow them to conserve their strength before sweeping in to seize power from other Islamist movements that have exhausted themselves fighting foreign interference.

The chairman of the Somali Sufi movement [Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Muhieddin] recently described al-Shabaab as “misguided people who have misunderstood the true values of Islam.” By contrast the Ahlu Sunna wa’l-Jamaa Sufi movement is defending a way of life threatened by, as he put it, “al-Shabaab’s madness.” For now the Sufi movement promises to lay down arms as soon as al-Shabaab is eliminated, but armed movements tend to take on a life of their own. The Sufi militants are looking for military support and training, but complain none has been forthcoming. Despite this, the Sufis have a formidable nationwide network and are determined to avenge al-Shabaab’s destruction of the tombs and shrines of their saints.

One of the most egregious examples of sectarian violence in Somalia came in August when five Pakistani preachers were killed and two wounded in an attack on a mosque in central Somalia [Galkayo]. The preachers were recently arrived members of the Tablighi Jamaat, an international conservative Islamic movement based in Pakistan. The growth of the socially conservative Tablighi Jamaat in Somalia has come largely at the expense of the local Sufi orders, but the Sufi Ahlu Sunnah wa’l-Jama’a denied being behind the murders, as did al-Shabaab. For the Tablighis, the incident was a bitter reminder of the Ethiopian slaughter of 11 Jama’at members at a Mogadishu mosque in 2008.

And what about the loyalties of the actual gunmen? Continuing defections from one group to another suggest that, in typical Somali fashion, clan identification, belonging to the political group in the ascendance and a steady income are more important factors than ideology. The TFG claims to have received a number of defecting senior al-Shabaab commanders in recent weeks, as a result of these officials having come to the conclusion that the TFG is indeed an Islamic government. President Sharif has acknowledged his government is doing everything possible to widen the rift between Hizb al-Islam and al-Shabaab, though the unintentional result of this policy may be a stronger al-Shabaab.

This sudden explosion in Islamic sectarianism in Somalia will almost certainly extend the ongoing conflict and will present a formidable roadblock to a negotiated settlement, virtually the only hope for resolution in a nation where no single force seems capable of assuming control.           

The Baghdadi Tapes: Supposedly Imprisoned Iraqi Islamist Claims He Still Leads Fight against U.S. Occupation

Andrew McGregor

July 17, 2009

Despite the arrest on April 23 of a man identified by Iraqi authorities as Abu Omar al-Husayni al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the “Islamic State of Iraq” (ISI), audio messages keep emerging from an unseen individual who identifies himself as the authentic Abu Omar al-Husayni (or al-Qurayshi) al-Baghdadi. There are several theories regarding the identification of the mysterious commander of the ISI, an organization closely connected to al-Qaeda in Iraq since its establishment was announced on October 15, 2006.

abu omar al-baghdadiPurported Photo of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi

The latest audio message, over 43 minutes long, emerged earlier this month (Al-Furqan Media Production Establishment-al-Fajr Media Center, July 7). In the audiotape, al-Baghdadi denounces Iraq’s “rejectionist” (i.e. Shiite) government for its celebration of the June 30 American withdrawal from Iraq’s cities in a so-called “Sovereignty Day”: “Even if the occupying Americans have no presence except in a small span of land in the desert of Iraq, away from all forms of lives, every Muslim has to practice jihad against them until their expulsion.”

The ISI leader says little has changed with the withdrawal from urban areas. The Americans still “have the right to interfere in the military, security, and economic affairs; including the right to exterminate, shell, destroy, terrorize, and detain. They have the right to get in and out of the country without any kind of supervision or search. They have the right to loot and plunder the wealth of the country under the guise of exportation, importation, and duty-free [trade].”

Al-Baghdadi has little use for Iraq’s leading Sunni politicians. While the newly elected speaker of parliament, Ayad al-Samarrai (a Sunni Arab and member of al-Tawafuq [Accord Party], the largest Sunni alliance in Iraq’s parliament) praised the U.S. pullback as proof the political process was the best option, the ISI leader insists al-Tawafuq has played “the ugliest role in the history of any agent group that betrays its religion and its country so far,” through its participation in drafting a secular constitution. Tawafuq leader Harith al-Obeidi was assassinated outside a west Baghdad mosque on June 12 in what the Interior Ministry believes was an al-Qaeda operation. The gunman was reported to have either been killed by the mosque’s security guards or to have blown himself up with a grenade (Times, June 12).

Al-Baghdadi goes on to describe Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi (former leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party and a potential presidential candidate) as a “criminal” responsible for forming and supporting the anti-al-Qaeda Awakening Councils. Al-Hashimi resigned as secretary-general of the Islamic Party in early June amidst speculation he had been named as an al-Qaeda collaborator during the interrogation of the individual who Iraqi authorities claim is the real Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 30).  Al-Hashimi describes the allegations as a “tempest in a teapot” and responds: “This is not the first time, and perhaps not the last, that the Iraqi Islamic Party is unfairly accused of links to Al-Qaeda. In this regard, I do not free from blame those who are lying to their people and promoting allegations, the falseness of which they are the first ones to know. I feel sorry for their political reputation, because lies will soon be revealed and because Iraqi citizens remember well al-Baghdadi’s statements and his threats to bring woe and affliction upon the members of the Iraqi Islamic Party” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 4).

A number of other Iraqis have been arrested as a result of the “confessions” of the imprisoned man the state says is al-Baghdadi, including Abdul Jabbar Ibrahim, a leading Sunni politician, who now stands accused of terrorism.

Dissecting American Policy in Iraq

Al-Baghdadi argues the American withdrawal from the cities is meaningless as “the U.S. occupier has not come to Iraq to withdraw from it.” The Americans are motivated by economic interests and religious “fallacies,” including “defending the Jewish state [of Israel].”

Al-Baghdadi suggests the American pullback has less to do with strategic objectives than with the war being “the key and genuine reason” for the economic crisis in the United States. In addition, the costs of physical and psychological treatment for U.S. combat veterans and their families are steadily increasing. The departure of most of America’s allies from Iraq and the “devilish alliance [the Coalition]” has increased the economic costs of maintaining the occupation. The “doctrinal, military and ethical steadfastness” of the ISI has “astonished the occupation and made it lose its mind.” The result is the U.S. occupation forces have realized that “the Muslim giant will never die, even if it becomes sick.”

Pointing to the bankruptcy of General Motors and other major American companies, al-Baghdadi says the situation is reminiscent of that which preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ISI leader expects an American collapse “during the administration of the black of Washington” (i.e. President Barack Obama). Shortly after last year’s U.S. presidential election, al-Baghdadi called on the new president to turn to Islam; “I call on you to believe in the one and only God who has no partners. Then declare your Islam so that you may be safe in the worldly life and the afterlife… You have inherited a distorted religion which contains much more falsehood than truth. It was corrupted by [the Byzantine emperor] Constantine and his unjust assistants and followers, who were seeking glory in this mundane world” (al-Furqan, November 7, 2008). Al-Baghdadi went on to suggest an American return to its pre-war policy of isolationism would be rewarded by trade with an independent and Islamic Iraq:

America used to be impartial until World War II, during which it enjoyed security, safety, and development. Once this nation started to lose impartiality and interfere in the affairs of others, it began to lose everything for the sake of a gang of arms and oil dealers who led an entire nation like slaves to destructive wars as a fuel for their endless greed. Today, on behalf of my brothers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Chechnya, I propose to you what is good for you and for us; namely, to return to impartiality, withdraw your troops and go home, and not to interfere in the affairs of our countries directly or indirectly. We promise that we will not stop the trading of oil or other commodities with you, provided that justice is achieved, and provided the prices are not cheap (al-Furqan, November 7, 2008).

Apparently disappointed with the president’s failure to accept his invitation to “return” to Islam, al-Baghdadi has since described the president as “a hireling who apostatized from his religion [Islam]” (al-Furqan, May 30).

Addressing Iraqi Opposition to the Islamic State of Iraq

The ISI leader is critical of other mujahideen groups active in Iraq, mocking them as “phony names for groups visualized in the imagination of those who created them… These names, phony or real, were then blessed by the new leaders in a plan to overlook the Islamic State of Iraq under the pretext that it only represents 10 percent of jihad forces, and that it has no political program… according to their fabrications, [the ISI] is socially outcast as if it came from outer space.” Al-Baghdadi rebukes those who suggest the ISI has no political program; “Is lifting the banner of secularism in the name of democracy and the call for the return of the Ba’ath Party a political program while the Islamic State is not?… The time of patriotism, nationalism and Ba’athism has ended for good, along with its advocates, God willing. We believe that this is the time of the holders of the banner which says there is no god but God [i.e. the monotheist Salafists of the ISI]” (al-Furqan, July 7).

The statement accuses the Badr Corps, the Mahdi Army and the Da’wah Party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of forming a “rejectionist [i.e. Shiite] tripartite” ruling group in Baghdad that was “raised in the embrace” of Ayatollah Khomeini and has “unprecedented aggression and hate toward anything that is Sunni or Arab” (al-Baghdadi here ignores the fact virtually all Iraq’s Shiites are Arabs). He alleges the Iraqi Shiites (a majority in Iraq) are using all the “tricks and cunning methods the Persians are famous for throughout their history,” including the utilization of democracy as a means of establishing a Shiite state in Iraq. Al-Baghdadi accuses the “dogs of the Awakening Council” of collaborating in this project (al-Furqan, July 7).

The Zionist-Christian Conspiracy to Drive Islam from Jerusalem

In late May, al-Baghdadi released a statement regarding Christian-Jewish ties on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to the Middle East (al-Furqan, May 30). In a 40 minute audio recording entitled “Al-Aqsa [Jerusalem] Between the Deviation of the Christians and the Deception of the Jews,” al-Baghdadi notes the importance some Protestant Christians (particularly those in America) place on the literal interpretation of the first five books of the Old Testament (corresponding to the Jewish Torah) and the prophecies found therein. According to al-Baghdadi, the Jews found this approach “beneficial to their objectives, especially since this movement [i.e. Evangelical Protestantism] began to work strongly toward the idea of the return of the Jews to the holy land in Palestine.”

Although Catholicism has traditionally rejected Zionism as a literal interpretation of symbolic texts, al-Baghdadi suggests the Roman Catholic Church has lately been infiltrated by Zionists, thus explaining the timing of Pope Benedict’s trip to Israel at a time when that nation is ruled by a “fanatical right-wing government” and his outreach to the Jews while ignoring the suffering of the Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

Al-Baghdadi ties the timing of the trip to Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to reconstruct the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and the apocalyptic thread of Zionist Christianity that believes the temple must be rebuilt before the second coming of Christ will occur. He compares the “end-times” beliefs of each of the three religions of the book:

• The Muslims await the return of Issa ibn Maryam (Jesus, the son of Mary) to “break the cross… and kill his enemies the Jews and his Christian worshippers.”
• The Christians await the return of Jesus to “kill the Muslims and all those who do not believe in his religion at the battle of Armageddon.”
• The Jews await the descendant of David [i.e. the Messiah] so he may “kill the Christians and the Muslims.”

Both Christians and Jews believe the establishment of the state of Israel and the return of the Jews to Palestine are the first step in ushering in the return of their Saviour, according to al-Baghdadi, who accuses the Jews of building a tunnel beneath the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque that leads to halls inside the Temple Mount where Jews can pray as “they wait to move to the top floors” when the Islamic holy sites have been destroyed, allowing the reconstruction of the Jewish temple.

According to the ISI leader, Christians and Jews “have disagreed on many things, even on the God that they worship, but they do not disagree on the sanctity of Jerusalem, the return of the Messiah to it, their animosity to Muslims, or the necessity of annihilating them and rebuilding the temple… They are working hard to demolish al-Aqsa.” Al-Baghdadi warns that Muslims are coming from Khorasan [Central Asia], the Maghreb, Somalia and Yemen to foil these plans. The Pope’s call for peaceful coexistence between “the occupiers and the oppressed” demonstrated “his support for the [Zionist] entity’s existence and its right to our desecrated lands.” Al-Baghdadi threatens retaliation against the traditional Christians sects of the Middle East. A series of bombings targeted Christian churches earlier this month (AFP, July 13; Reuters, July 14).

Who Is the Real Baghdadi?

U.S. forces in Iraq have long maintained that al-Baghdadi was a fictitious character played by an actor named Abu Abdullah al-Naima, but later claimed the role of ISI leader had been filled by a real person after the police chief in Haditha claimed in May 2008 that interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects revealed al-Baghdadi was actually a former Haditha native named Hamed Dawood Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi, who had been dismissed from the security services for extremism (Al-Arabiya, May 7, 2008; CBS, May 7, 2008). On May 27, Iraqi security forces reported the arrest of a man they identified as “al-Baghdadi’s brother,” Zaydan Abd Ahmad al-Majmai (al-Sumaria TV, May 27).

U.S. forces have never confirmed the arrest of al-Baghdadi, obviously sharing the same suspicions that cut across Iraqi society. Many members of Iraq’s parliament have expressed their doubts about the identity of the arrested suspect, noting that there have been numerous false reports in the past of al-Baghdadi’s arrest or death (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 30). Al-Baghdadi’s arrest was reported three times in one week alone in March 2007.

According to the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, voice analysts have confirmed the voice on the latest audiotapes is the same as the one that appeared on tapes for two years preceding the arrest of the man Iraqi authorities claim is al-Baghdadi (al-Hayat, May 28). Al-Hayat’s account included an interview with “a prominent Iraqi security source” who suggested authorities had arrested the wrong man: “Al-Baghdadi is a former Iraqi Army officer. He served as a mosque imam in the Al-Hashimiyat region in al-Anbar before he joined the al-Qaeda organization in December 2005… the person who is being held prisoner by the Iraqi Government is Ahmad al-Ahmadi, a former member of the local council in Bahraz.” Various jihadi web forums presented their own versions of the arrest, including suggestions the arrest had been fabricated to attract foreign investment to Iraq, or claims that al-Baghdadi had been detained in Syria and handed over to Iraqi security forces.

The individual claiming to be the true al-Baghdadi has rejected the arrest as a ruse designed to force him into the open; “The key purpose of their lie is to force me to appear, undisguised, in a video. This is a stupid trick that will not force me to do anything. I will appear to the whole world when I want to and when it benefits the mujahideen in the midst of the upcoming victory, God willing… the voice in my audiotapes belongs to me, not to a spokesperson who speaks on my behalf or others and without retouching or alterations (al-Furqan, May 30).

On May 18, Major General Qasim Atta displayed footage of the interrogation of the alleged ISI leader at a media conference. The individual shown stated; “I was born in 1969 and I’m from Diyala [province]. I joined al-Qaeda in 2005 and I formed the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006… I named myself Abu Omar al-Baghdadi because the name Abu Omar represents the Sunnis and al-Baghdadi [represents] the centre of Iraq…” The suspect then went on to describe the internal and external financing of al-Qaeda in Iraq and claimed responsibility for the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra that nearly sparked an all-out sectarian war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites (AFP, May 18). According to General Atta, al-Baghdadi’s real name is Ahmad Abd Ahmad, a 40-year-old former military officer. The general was contradicted by Iraq’s National Security Minister, Sharwan al-Wa’ili, who claimed the detained suspect is a former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi whose real name is Ma’ad Ibrahim Muhammad: “He is a former officer of the Republican Guard. Saddam Hussein pardoned him after he was sentenced to death on charges of belonging to Salafi groups. The U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested him several times, but did not discover his identity.”


As the controversy over al-Baghdadi’s alleged arrest continues, the latest audiotapes show a use of language, phrases and ideas based on a wide knowledge of history, political trends and intellectual concepts consistent with statements released before the arrest of the man Iraqi security forces claim is the real Baghdadi. This consistency and the content of the messages raise questions about the true identity of the ISI’s Amir. The audiotapes seem unlikely to be the work of a former low-level security officer or the imam of a local mosque. Baghdad has been unable so far to convince American security forces or even most Iraqis of the legitimacy of their claim to have arrested the real ISI commander. The recent surge in al-Qaeda bombings and assassinations suggests the group remains a dangerous security threat to a restructured Iraqi state, regardless of the real identity of the man giving confessions from an Iraqi prison.


This article first appeared in the July 17, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


President Obama’s Outreach to the Muslim World (I) – Afghan Taliban Attack Barack Obama’s “Arrogant” Cairo Speech

Andrew McGregor

June 12, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo was seen by many observers as an outreach to the Islamic world. Within that world, some welcomed his words, some wait to see if deeds of substance accompany those words, while others, such as the Afghan Taliban, described the President’s words as nothing more than “misleading slogans” that “failed to deliver a clear and true message to the Muslim world.” The speech failed to contain any “sign of practical change in the hostile policy of America towards Muslims” (Afghan Islamic Press, June 5).

Obama Egypt 2In a point-by-point deconstruction of the speech, the Afghan Taliban analyzed and condemned most of the material within the President’s address, which sought to lay a groundwork for repairing relations with the Islamic world:

• The Taliban described the president’s claims of tolerance and good-will as inconsistent with American actions, particularly those of its “occupation forces,” which are committing “mass murder” and imprisoning Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq in “the most hateful prisons of the world.” As a result of these “illegal” activities, “Obama’s baseless speech has no importance.”

• The statement objected to the President’s justification of the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a “legitimate struggle to secure U.S. interests… According to national and international laws, the occupation of independent countries and hostile war against their free nations cannot be called a legitimate war.”

• The Taliban accused the President of wanting to separate Muslims from “their real protectors,” the mujahideen.  The speech is described as an effort to divide the Muslim community. “Today, all vigilant Muslims are engaged in jihad in one way or the other. Therefore, the U.S. war against the mujahideen is considered a war against all Muslim nations and Islam.”

• Obama’s claim that America was not seeking a permanent military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is contradicted by the ongoing construction of military bases and airports in both countries, as well as the President’s stated intention of sending additional military forces to Afghanistan. “This large number of airports and countless number of military bases are established at a time when they do not need even half of them, given the number of their forces and daily military flights. This shows that Americans are intending to permanently remain in and occupy the region.”

• The President’s contention that U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan if peace is achieved “is quite funny… The presence of Americans is the main cause of violence and the current problems in the region. Jihad and resistance against American forces will continue as long as they are present in Afghanistan.”

• The Taliban also objected to the President’s use of the Jewish Holocaust to demand that Muslims avoid the “deeply wrong” practices of “threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews.” The Taliban statement claims President Obama “described Israel as the most innocent and worthy nation of the world” while summarizing the 70-years of Palestinian suffering in “a few misleading words.” While the President did contend that “the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security,” the Taliban condemned Obama for failing to speak about the blockade of Gaza and Israeli efforts to deny the passage of medicines and basic food items to Gazan residents. The President also ignored the fact that “mass murders are committed [in Palestine] at every moment.”

In its summary of the President’s address, the Taliban statement remarked that President Obama did not come with conciliatory intentions, but with an “arrogant notion” to give orders to the Muslim world.


This article first appeared in the June 12, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

TNSM Leader Sufi Muhammad Fights Government Offensive in Swat with a Barrage of Words

Andrew McGregor

May 18, 2009

Even as 15,000 Pakistani troops prepared to flood the Swat valley stronghold of his Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) movement, Maulana Sufi Muhammad continued to unleash a series of edicts on topics as varied as democracy, the status of women and the Islamic legitimacy of photography.

Sufi MuhammadMaulana Sufi Muhammad (Dawn)

Sufi Muhammad was reported to have left his home in Lower Dir on May 4 after it was hit by mortar fire in the opening phases of Operation Rah-e-Haq 4. He is now believed to be in the TNSM stronghold at Aman Darra (Pakistan Observer, May 5). His son, Maulana Kifayatullah, was killed in the shelling of his home in Lower Dir (The News, [Islamabad], May 8).

In a recent interview by Pakistani television, Sufi Muhammad rejected democracy as the creation of “infidels.” The TNSM leader asked, “How can people who believe in democracy be expected to enforce the ideals of Shari’a?” Even the Islamic states of Saudi Arabia and Iran had failed to implement Shari’a to Sufi Muhammad’s satisfaction as he cited the Taliban regime of Afghanistan as the only example of a government that had properly administered Islamic law. According to Sufi Muhammad, communism, socialism and fascism were also “un-Islamic” political systems (Geo TV, May 4). In the same interview, he also condemned still photography and videos as “un-Islamic,” before declaring that in a Taliban-run society, women would only be allowed to leave their house to perform pilgrimage to Mecca (Daily Times [Lahore], May 4). Finally, Sufi Muhammad proclaimed that jihad was not mandatory in Kashmir as Islamic insurgents there were seeking a state rather than the implementation of Shari’a (The News, May 3).

Sufi Muhammad has not escaped criticism from other Islamic scholars in Pakistan. A recent meeting of the Ahl-e-Sunna in Karachi issued a statement asking if Taliban excesses in Swat would now be dealt with by the new Islamic courts. “If not, to whom are they accountable for the injustice they have committed? Who slaughtered innocent people, dishonored bodies, and hanged them on poles? Will they be called to any Shari’a court and [be] sentenced? Is it legal, according to Shari’a, to dishonor the body of a rival and then hang it from a tree? Do the people who have a different opinion deserve death? Are the people who have killed scholars of the Ahl-e-Sunna or forced them to migrate and taken control of their mosques, madaris, and properties exempt from the dictates of Shari’a, or are they answerable to any Shari’a court?” (Jang Online, May 4).

The Pakistani press has also been highly critical of Sufi Muhammad’s failure to fulfill his end of the peace agreement with the NWFP government, his rejection of government-appointed qazis (Islamic judges) and his unwillingness to disarm local Taliban and TNSM fighters (Aaj Kal, May 5; Nawa-e-Waqt, May 5; Jinnah, May 5). According to one major daily, “The demands of the TNSM have been accepted by the government, and they are being implemented as well. Despite this, the opposition by Sufi Muhammad and his disciples is beyond comprehension. Apparently, it appears that these people have a desire to establish a state within a state to be headed by Sufi Muhammad. Such a situation cannot be acceptable to a sovereign country. Therefore, it will be justified if the Army launches an operation for the stability and security of the country” (Khabrain, May 5).

This article was first published in the May 18, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Kuwait’s Hamid Abdallah al-Ali Describes Pending Defeat of Americans in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Andrew McGregor

May 18, 2009

Shaykh Hamid Abdallah al-Ali, a leading Kuwait-based Salafist preacher and advocate of global jihad, has declared that Islam’s battle in Afghanistan will continue to escalate in the coming days, extending to Pakistan where the “Zionist-Crusader” alliance will use strategies similar to those that have already failed in Palestine, Iraq and Somalia. His analysis was contained in a May 2 article entitled; “Afghan-Pakistani Tight Spot and Zion-American Ambitions” (, May 2). The analysis was carried by many jihadist websites.

Hamid Abdullah al-AliShaykh Hamid Abdullah al-Ali

Al-Ali says the most prominent achievement of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Baitullah Mahsud has been the rejuvenation of “the jihadist network in Afghanistan, all the warlords from Pashtun [tribes] and the mujahideen from the Punjab district… aligning them under one banner.”  The fusion of trained jihadis, funds and organizational skills has made it possible for Baitullah to strike anywhere in Pakistan. According to al-Ali, the success of the Taliban is based on its ability to win supporters and postpone “secondary disputes” within the alliance.

The Salafist preacher is, unsurprisingly, critical of Shiite Iran. Al-Ali notes that the “Safavids” (Iranians) do not cooperate with Sunni jihad movements, except temporarily to “burn out such movements” in a “wicked scheme.” “What is astonishing in their ambition is that they want a deal that reaches a degree that equalizes them with the international deals the West concludes with China or Russia.” The shaykh suggests Iran will continue to display their ability to cause harm continuously until they are given status alongside the great powers, even if it involves provoking the United States in Latin America (an apparent reference to Iranian relations with Venezuela).

The shaykh suggests that the destruction of NATO supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan would be one of the greatest achievements of the ongoing jihad. This would help make the Afghanistan-Pakistan region “a vast and safe camp” for Islamic jihadis. “The Afghan-Pakistani jihad is gearing up to a higher degree, taking advantage of the U.S. exhaustion caused by the Iraqi quagmire, the economic crisis, [and] the widespread American fatigue from external wars…”

Shaykh Hamid Abdallah al-Ali is best known for his 1999 fatwa declaring the government of Kuwait to be composed of disbelievers – legitimate targets for the mujahideen – and for his early 2001 fatwa sanctioning suicide bombings, including those involving the flying of aircraft into public buildings (see Terrorism Monitor, April 26, 2007).

This article was first published in the May 18, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Egyptian Islamists Urge al-Qaeda to Declare a Truce

Andrew McGregor

February 19, 2009

Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya (GI – The Islamic Group), once one of Egypt’s most feared Islamist terrorist organizations, has issued a statement urging al-Qaeda to observe a ceasefire to better assess the intentions of the new Obama administration in Washington (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 24).

Najih Ibrahim 2

Shaykh Najih Ibrahim (Al-Ahram)

GI has observed its own ceasefire agreement with the Egyptian government since March 1999. The agreement followed a number of spectacular terrorist attacks by the group, such as the 1997 Luxor attack that killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians. These attacks, however, only succeeded in alienating the movement from public support. The targeting of tourists and the tourism infrastructure proved highly unpopular in a nation that relies heavily on revenues from these sources (up to $4 billion per year in much-needed foreign currency). The group’s often pointless attacks on Egypt’s large Coptic Christian community inflamed sectarian divisions within the country while doing little to further the Islamist cause. In August 2006, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Egyptian national Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced the merger of GI with al-Qaeda, but this development was immediately denied by JI leaders within Egypt (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 14, 2006).

The GI’s chief theorist, Shaykh Najih Ibrahim, was released in 2004 after spending 24 years behind bars following his conviction as a ringleader in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat. Since then he has adopted a more conciliatory role in Egypt while rejecting the violence of al-Qaeda: “Their aim is jihad and our aim is Islam.”

Shaykh Najih rejected a call from al-Qaeda strategist Abu Yahya al-Libi for immediate attacks on Britain and other Western nations as retaliation for the Israeli assault on Gaza: “We fear that the al-Qaeda organization might carry out operations that will turn Obama into another George Bush and turn the good [in President Obama’s stated intention to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq and close Guantanamo Bay], albeit small, into evil from which only Israel will benefit” (Al-Arabiya TV [Dubai], January 23; Al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 24).

Isam al-Din Darbalah, a long-time GI leader, also issued a statement addressed to all levels of al-Qaeda’s leadership and membership. Noting that President Obama appears ready to abandon “Bush’s dead-end and crazy path,” Isam al-Din urged a four-month ceasefire designed to test American intentions: “Say [to the Western states] without fear: ‘We will not start fighting you in the next four months, unless in self-defense, awaiting fair and practical stands on the part of Obama. We welcome a peace based on respect for the Islamic identity and our peoples’ right to live independently under their creed and shari’a and on the basis of common interests with America and the world for the good of humanity, away from the conflict of cultures.'” While still in prison, Isam al-Din collaborated with Najih Ibrahim and several other imprisoned JI leaders in a reassessment of religious extremism entitled “Correcting Concepts.” He later contributed to a book-length study of al-Qaeda’s strategy that criticized the group for a flawed understanding of reality and the capabilities of the Muslim nation.

This article first appeared in the February 19 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Pakistani Islamist Fatwa Refutes Taliban’s Jihad

Andrew McGregor

October 22, 2008

In a surprising move, a group of Pakistani clerics best known for their hardline views on Islam’s role in society have gathered to issue a fatwa condemning suicide-bombing and the current trend of individuals or organizations declaring jihad against the state at any moment they feel appropriate. Brought together under the umbrella of the Mutahidda Ulema Council (MUC), the conference agreed “only the state has the authority to call for jihad, and individuals or groups are not authorized to do that” (Daily Times [Lahore], October 16).

NaeemiConference Host Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi

The meeting brought together an unlikely assemblage of Pakistani religious leaders. The council included representatives from the Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnat (a Barelvi Sunni movement largely based on the non-Pashtun population of the Punjab) and their ideological opponents in the conservative Deobandi Jamaat Ulema-e Islam. The Shi’a Ahl-e Tashee was present, as was the Sipah-e Sahaba, a banned radical Sunni organization involved in terrorist violence against Shi’a. Representatives from minority Sunni groups like the Ahl-e Hadith and Jamaat-e Islami were also present. The conference was hosted in Lahore by the Jamia Naeemia (led by Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi), a group known for its harsh criticism of perceived government failures to implement strict applications of Islam in the social and political spheres of Pakistan.

Conference delegates were unanimous in their rejection of suicide-bombing as haram (forbidden) and najaaiz (illegitimate), though the statement added: “It seems as if the government is covertly backing these attacks so that patriotic citizens may not assemble and launch a mass drive for the defense of the country” (The News [Islamabad], October 14). While moderate Islamic leaders like Mufti Munibur Rehman have issued fatwas against suicide-bombing in the past, few members of the MUC group of clerics have any affiliation to “moderate” trends of Islamic interpretation (Daily Times, October 16). Despite the criticism of the government, the clerics’ condemnation of suicide bombing was welcomed by Pakistan’s Interior advisor, Rehman Malik.

The conference also issued a number of demands on the Islamabad government, including an immediate stop to military operations in the Bajaur and Swat frontier districts, an alliance between Pakistan and Iran, and the public revelation of any secret deals made between ex-President Pervez Musharraf and the United States. The clerics condemned the recent U.S. nuclear trade deal with India as dangerous to Pakistan, which has just completed its own deal for Chinese nuclear assistance (Press Trust of India, October 2; Daily Times, October 16; October 19).

Tribal lashkar-s (ad-hoc military formations) have been formed in the frontier region in recent weeks to combat Taliban militants, but since the MUC meeting the Taliban have struck back with deadly suicide attacks against tribal jirga-s (assemblies) convened to discuss eliminating the militants (Geo TV, October 18; KUNA, October 19). The attacks suggest that even a fatwa issued by hardline Islamists is now insufficient to slow the rapid escalation of violence in the tribal regions.

 This article first appeared in the October 22, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Australian Convicted of Compiling Terrorism Manual under Anti-Terrorism Legislation

Andrew McGregor

September 18, 2008

On September 10 Sydney resident and former Qantas Air baggage handler Belal Sadallah Khazaal became the second individual to be convicted under Australia’s Terrorism Act, introduced in 2003. The conviction by the New South Wales Supreme Court on a charge of “knowingly making a document connected with assistance in a terrorist act” came as a result of Khazaal’s publication of a 110 page Arabic-language terrorism manual, Provisions on the Rules of Jihad – Short Judicial Rulings and Organizational Instructions for Fighters and Mujahidin Against Infidels. Khazaal published the work in 2003 under the name Abu Mohamed Attawheedy and posted it to the website. No verdict was reached on a second charge of urging others to commit a terrorist act.

KhazaalBelal Sadallah Khazaal

The police investigation began with a series of interviews by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in April 2004, followed by a search of Khazaal’s home in May and his arrest in June 2004. An AFP case officer testified that Khazaal attempted to take the publication down from the website following the search of his house (, August 25).

Defense claims that the book was simply a collation of articles dealing with terrorism were damaged by the explicit lists of individuals and countries targeted for assassination or terrorist attacks. The latter list included Khazaal’s home country of Australia. While the first half of the book focused on religious rulings concerning jihad, the second half described methods of assassination, kidnapping, sniping, setting booby-traps, poisoning, ambushing vehicles and shooting down planes (The Australian, September 11). Among several bizarre methods of assassination cited was a suggestion that “cake-throwing” could be made fatal by using adhesives instead of sweets, thus blinding and asphyxiating the victim. Another method called for sealing an abducted victim in a strong plastic bag, which would leave no marks on the body and could leave the impression it was suicide (Melbourne Herald Sun, August 15). The defense argued that the methods described were only “very, very general” (Sydney Morning Herald, August 21).

Khazaal’s attorney, George Thomas, suggested Khazaal was not responsible for the content of the book as he had plagiarized all of it from other sources with the exception of three paragraphs. Prosecutors argued that Khazaal had given the content his personal endorsement by publishing it under his own name (Sydney Morning Herald, September 11; The Australian, September 11). The defense also suggested Khazaal was acting in a professional capacity as a journalist, producing an expired membership card for the New South Wales branch of the Australian Journalists Association (, August 25). Another witness testified that Khazaal was the author of two Arabic-language books and involved in the publication of a Sydney magazine called Nida’ul Islam (The Call of Islam) (Melbourne Herald Sun, August 26).

A number of groups claiming to represent Australia’s 280,000 Muslims have attacked the conviction and the Terrorism Act. A spokesman for the Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations suggested: “These terror laws have specifically made every Muslim a potential target for arrest by police” (Reuters, September 11).

A member of the Muslim Community Reference Group (a contact group created by the Australian government to improve relations with the Muslim community) was asked to spend two days examining Khazaal’s library of 3,000 books, 2,600 audiotapes, 600 videos and 40,000 pages of material downloaded from the internet. The material was described as being mostly “of a general nature on Islamic jurisprudence: on marriage, fasting, prayers, divorce” (The Australian, August 27).

Khazaal is facing a possible 15 years in prison on the conviction and may be retried on the second charge.

This article first appeared in the September 18, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Deobandis Define and Reject Terrorism in New Fatwa

Andrew McGregor

June 4, 2008

An important Islamic seminary once blamed for inspiring the militancy of Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan has issued an important new fatwa (Islamic ruling) on the illegitimacy of terrorism. The 152-year-old Darul Uloom Deoband seminary is located in the town of Deoband, in India’s Uttar Pradesh province. The new fatwa was issued in the name of the seminary’s Grand Mufti, Habibur Rehman, who told a meeting of thousands of Islamic scholars and students: “Islam rejects all kinds of unjust violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, murder and plunder and does not allow it in any form” (Independent, June 2).

dar usoolDarul Uloom Deoband Seminary

The announcement of the fatwa came in New Delhi during the Anti-Terrorism and Global Peace Conference. Based on a re-examination of relevant Islamic texts, the fatwa stated: “It is proved from clear guidelines provided in the Holy Quran that allegations of terrorism against a religion which preaches and guarantees world peace is nothing but a lie. The religion of Islam has come to wipe out all kinds of terrorism and to spread the message of global peace” (Times of India, June 1). The ruling was ratified by a host of other Muslim organizations and a mass “oath of allegiance” to the fatwa was given at the gathering. India’s 140 million Muslims, 13 percent of the population, comprise the world’s third-largest national community of Muslims.

The Deobandi scholars also issued a definition of terrorism to support the fatwa: “Any action that targets innocents, whether by an individual or by any government or by a private organization anywhere in the world constitutes, according to Islam, an act of terrorism” (Hindustan Times, June 1).

Speakers from the Deoband seminary still took the opportunity to condemn the United States and its support for Israel. Deputy Rector Hazrat Maulana Qari Sayed Muhammad Usman told the crowd: “Whenever Christian and American interests are hurt in any part of the world, they take prompt action to set things right even at the cost of human lives. They maintain silence though when Muslims are the victims” (Times of India, June 1).

India’s opposition Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which has adopted a strong anti-terrorism stance, welcomed the ruling. Party leader Rajnath Singh declared: “Deoband is seeking to dissociate Muslims from terrorism. But the central government wants to equate Muslims with terrorism and on this very basis is rejecting an anti-terrorism law” (Times of India, June 2). The party is critical of the government’s decision to repeal India’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (The Hindu, June 1).

While the Deobandi movement has spread across the world, the latest fatwa will be of particular interest to Britain, which now hosts 17 Deobandi seminaries providing 80 percent of Britain’s domestically-trained imams (Independent, June 2).

Following the Deobandi ruling, another of India’s major Muslim organizations, the Jamiat Ulema-e Hind, issued its own anti-terrorism fatwa (Calcutta Telegraph, June 1). It remains to be seen if the Deobandi fatwa inspires Muslim groups in other parts of the Islamic world to do likewise.

This article first appeared in the June 4 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus