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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and by its Arabic language acronym Daesh is most often described as “a Salafi jihadist militant group and former unrecognized proto-state that follows a fundamentalist Wahhabi and heterodox doctrine of Sunni Islam.” But what does that all mean? Tactical Rabbit is proud to bring you this series on ISIS – who are they, what do they want, and what does it all mean for America’s foreign and homeland security policies? Our intelligence professionals, terrorism experts, and Near East operatives bring you an inside look at the world’s most vicious terrorist organization.

ISIS, ISIL, Daesh – What’s in a name?

This is the first in a series that Tactical Rabbit will bring you about ISIS: its purpose, history, and organization. In this first installment, we tackle the group’s name.

Since the crisis in Iraq really began to deepen a few years back, there has been a fair amount of debate as to what is or should be the proper name for the group commonly known in America as ISIS. The name most often used in the media, and the one we have chosen to use for this series, is ISIS. This is also the acronym used most often by most English speakers. What most Americans know about this group called ISIS is simply that it is a jihadist organization, that it became prominent several years ago now, that it is very dangerous and has been waging war and engaging in terrorism in a variety of places around the globe, and that it managed to carve out and hold some territory during the Syrian civil war. And that’s about it.

But what does “ISIS” really mean, and why did some in the Obama Administration refer to it also as “ISIL”? And still others as “Daesh”? And others simply “Islamic State”? Why did it take months for everyone to decide what to call it? What is the explanation behind some people using the names interchangeably but others objecting to doing so? Also, why is “Daesh” so different from the other ones? The answers to these questions unlock important information about the organization and its place in the world.

Let’s start with what the founders of the organization themselves call it, which is,Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al Iraq wa al-Sham, which translates from Arabic into English as “the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.” What is al-Sham, you ask? Well, it’s an Arabic word that describes a region, and the closest word we have in English for this region is “the Levant.” However, just to further complicate things, there is a distinction in Arabic between “Bilad al-Sham” (or, “the Levant” to us) and simply “al-Sham”, which translates best into English as Syria in general or Damascus in particular. But it doesn’t stop there. “Al-Sham” can mean not only what we currently understand as “Syria” (the country as defined on current maps) but also “Greater Syria,” which has a broader meaning and refers more generally to a “Syria” that is historic and not defined by modern boundaries. Just to give you a preview of the complexity of operating in this part of the world, it is even more involved than that, because various Arabic dialects ascribe further different meanings to the word. Finally, individual Arabic speakers, for a variety of reasons, often have their own understandings of what Syria is, what actually is included in “Greater Syria”, and so forth. Already, as you can see, there’s a lot in a name.

In any event, in order to try to capture the meaning of “al-Sham”, some like to use ISIS for “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” and some ISIL for “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”. Still others think that a better acronym is DAIISH, the “Arabic” acronym for “al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al Iraq wa al-Sham.” The “sh” sound in Arabic is one letter, so the “H” in the “Arabic” acronym does not stand for a word beginning with “H” – rather, the “SH” in the acronym represents the one word “al-Sham”. Also, the “I” in “Al-Islamiya” actually is pronounced a bit differently in Arabic in this particular phrase than an English “I”, so some will write the acronym as “DA’ISH”. Similarly, the actual letter that begins the Arabic word for “Iraq” actually doesn’t have a direct translation into English, so you can see it alternately translated as “I” (most common) or “E” (which can also be correct). Therefore, some translate the acronym as “DAESH”. Please note that, even those differences aside, because Arabic does not use the Roman alphabet, whenever we, for example, use “D” to stand in for the Arabic word that is pronounced “Dawla”, we are already engaging in translation of a sort, because we are substituting a Roman letter for an Arabic sound. Hence our quotation marks around “Arabic” when referring to the “Arabic” acronym. For these reasons, you will see some using DAIISH or DA’ISH to describe the organization, and you may also see someone use a slightly different acronym. Almost certainly among the two cited here and others you may see, what the translator is doing is simply hearing a slightly different phonetic word; alternate spellings in translation from Arabic into English are quite common and almost never reflect a political statement by the speaker. Caveat: the same is not necessarily true of “DAESH”, but we will come back to that one in a minute.

Typically, American intelligence agencies and other governmental bodies, and taking its cue from them, the media, refer to terrorist organizations by the name of the organization in the organization’s own language and/or to an acronym that is based on the organization’s own language. Therefore, in this case, you would expect the USG to use DAIISH or a variant to refer to this organization, but clearly that has not been the case. Why that is so is not totally clear, even to those within the USG. The important thing to know about the acronym soup around this organization is that, for most in the USG, the acronym or name they personally choose to use is not necessarily indicative of a philosophical viewpoint (although some individuals do feel strongly about how to refer to the organization and have expressed that view, which is therefore relevant for them and will be discussed below, but that is not the case across the board). For example, some made much political hay of former President Barack Obama using the acronym ISIL instead of ISIS, positing that this reflected a particular perspective he held, but the truth is, given how involved the name is and the various ways it can be translated into English, either ISIS or ISIL can be accurate, as can a number of variations on DAIISH – it’s really more a matter of the speaker’s preference.

Now, as promised, let’s back turn to the word “Daesh”: this is the word that most of the US’s partners in the Middle East use to describe the group. On the one hand, it can just be a phonetic translation of the acronym DAIISH, as discussed just now, but there also is a bit more going on with this particular word. If you’re heard anything about the different names for the organization we’re discussing, you’ve probably heard that the word “Daesh” is controversial, so let’s delve into why that is.

First, remember that DAESH is its own, legitimate acronym for the full Arabic name for the organization, depending on how the person translating the Arabic words into Roman letters hears them. Indeed, it is transcription of the full Arabic name of the organization into an “Arabic” acronym that is the origin of the word “Daesh”.

Second, to reiterate: “Daesh” is not a word that existed before the organization did – it arose as an acronym and then a name for the organization. However, the pronunciation of “Daesh” sounds very similar to the Arabic words “Daes” (which roughly translates as “someone who crushes a thing under his feet”) and “Dahes” (which translates as “someone who sows discord”) and therefore there is some irony/symbolism in Arabic to using the “Daesh” word/pronunciation to refer to the organization. Because “Daesh” sounds like and is one letter different from the Arabic word for “to trample”, it makes for a good pun in Arabic. One good way this has been analogized is to imagine an extremely unpopular organization in America with an acronym that could be spelled SHID and the almost inevitable puns that would bring. But it doesn’t mean that “SHID” is a “different conjugation” of the profane word you’re likely thinking of – it’s just a word with one different letter and a very similar pronunciation. And it is a gibberish word that didn’t exist in English until it arose as an acronym for this (fictional) organization. Similarly, “Daesh” didn’t exist in Arabic until it arose as an acronym, but it makes a great pun in Arabic and for that reason caught on.

Third, while we’re on the origins of the word and its meaning, there are some common myths out there that we would like to quash. Most of these myths have been perpetuated in the media by non-Arabic speakers for reasons we don’t fully understand, although we have some views on that which we will express below. Here is what is true about what you may have heard: “Daesh” on its own IS NOT a somewhat slang Arabic term that means “a group of bigoted people who try to force their view onto others”. It is NOT a long-time stand-alone insult or pejorative in Arabic. Also, it is NOT one of the conjugations of the word “Daes”. It CANNOT be conjugated differently and end up meaning simply “trample”. Other versions of “Daes” do NOT have completely different meanings. There is NO letter in the word that stands in for the Arabic word meaning “to crush”. (If you think about it, that wouldn’t even make any sense.) The only truth about the origins of the word are those laid about above – it is an acceptable acronym for the full Arabic name of the organization and it makes for a great pun in Arabic.

Fourth, acronyms are extremely uncommon in Arabic. In fact, while we are used to shortening names for organizations into acronyms and then sometimes pronouncing those acronyms as if they were words, the very practice of doing so in Arabic can be seen as an affront. Yes, “Daesh” NOW means “a group of bigoted people who try to force their view onto others”, but only because it is an acronym used to describe the terrorist group also known as ISIS. Otherwise, it is just a nonsense sound (kind of like ISIL) that had no meaning until the group existed. And the fact that it is a nonsense sound in and of itself makes it an insult in the Arabic speaking world.

Fifth, the guys who founded the organization we are talking about do NOT call themselves “Daesh”. They call themselves by the full Arabic name “Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al Iraq wa al-Sham” and that is the only title they find acceptable. Is that name delusional, grandiose, narcissistic? Yes, and you must remember – so are the guys who founded the organization. But they don’t see themselves that way, and they are inherently insulted if you suggest they are anything less than the creators of a new caliphate. The guys who make up the organization take themselves very seriously. For that reason, any time you use any term at all for the organization other than “Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al Iraq wa al-Sham”, you are by definition making fun of them, especially if it’s a pun like “Daesh”.

OK, so that is the word “Daesh” – its origin, its meaning, its usage. Why has it caused so much controversy around the globe? It depends who you ask, and there actually are a lot of varying and complicated reasons that range from the silly to the philosophical. Let’s go through the most common.

First, because of the nonsense nature of the word and the fact that acronyms don’t really exist in Arabic, even some Arabic speakers who are 100% opposed to ISIS and what it stands for don’t like the acronym, because they find it insulting not just to the organization but to the Arabic language overall. This may seem a bit over the top for Americans, but it’s one of those things you have to chalk up to cultural differences.

Second, some people think it is important to make fun of the organization and to use satire and humor to diminish its power, and they therefore love the word “Daesh” and the pun it makes. Others object to the idea of using humor to describe a group that is capable of so much actual evil and human suffering.

Third, others in the Arabic speaking world object to “Daesh” because it is a made-up name, but the organization and the suffering it has caused are all too real. It’s not just the humor they object to – it’s the gibberishy, nonsense nature of the humor.

Fourth, remember again that Arabic is written in its own script that is actually quite beautiful and calligraphic when compared with our Roman lettering. Arabic is a language in which the appearance of a word when written, the shape and artistry of it, has significance. And the way the word “Daesh” looks when written in Arabic looks like a word from the time pre-Islam when there was widespread belief in the Arabic speaking world in evil spirts and such. Therefore, some Arabic speakers object to using the word “Daesh” because it suggests the organization is from that era and made up of supernatural monsters. Even the way the word sounds in Arabic evokes a bit of a sense of demons from the Dark Ages. Some Arabic speakers want everyone to remember that it is an organization made up of regular humans – misguided and bloodthirsty humans but not magical creatures. They don’t want to use a word that the organization might actually use to its advantage because of its ability to instill fear in its victims, almost all of whom are Arabic speaking and therefore able to make this spiritual connection to the word “Daesh”.

Fifth, some of the US’s partners abroad think that using “Daesh” is derogatory/de-legitimizing to the organization and that it is important to take that stand and use the word for that very reason. Many countries now officially use the word “Daesh”. Some of these countries don’t like the acronyms and names we Americans use, because they include the word “state” and they think we are somehow legitimizing the organization as a “state” when we use those terms. Of course, that overlooks the fact that “state” is simply an English translation of the Arabic word “Dawla” (which means state or country), so actually whether you use “state” or “Dawla”, or an acronym containing one of those words, really it’s a distinction without a difference. But certain foreign partners think “Daesh” is enough of an insult on its own, and far enough removed from the word “Dawla”, to clearly indicate that the organization is not an actual state. Others don’t like the English versions of the organization’s name, because they don’t like calling it “Islamic” when it clearly does not represent the views and goals of most of the planet’s 2 billion Muslims. Again, however, it is the organization itself that is using the word “al-Islamiya” and perverting its meaning, not those who simply translate that word into English. Nevertheless, those who object to using the word “Islamic” argue that the word “Daesh” is far enough away from “al-Islamiya” that it conveys their strong view that the organization does not speak for the Muslim world.

Sixth, given the complex meaning of the word “Daesh” in Arabic, use of the term is, almost by definition, a way in which individual Arabic-speaking Muslims have chosen to condemn the organization and to make it clear that, whatever its claims, it does not speak for them or their religion. Indeed, those who are most insistent upon using the word “Daesh” because of its derogatory connotations are Arabic speaking Muslims, and it’s important to remember they are also the ones most directly affected by the organization. When Western leaders choose to use the word, therefore, they are not legitimizing the organization at all (it’s an insult to the organization) – they are legitimizing the opposition to the organization from those who suffer most at its hands. But of course that is not widely understood. For example, some Americans criticized former Secretary of State John Kerry for using the term, but they probably didn’t understand the larger implications of using the word. Former Secretary Kerry was the nation’s top diplomat, and, if anything, he was probably simply attempting to be diplomatic and use the word that our regional partners use in order to indicate solidarity with them in their fight against the organization.

Seventh, some don’t like to use the term, because they suggest that it is so insulting that it will somehow offend the group into becoming even more violent. Others counter: hey, they’re already pretty violent. We at TR believe it is important to keep in mind that there is no word you can use for this group that is going to have the effect of uttering the name “Voldemort”. Even “Daesh” is just a word.

Eighth, relatedly, some act as though it is pinning down the name of the organization and its exact meaning that is the most important thing at stake, when it’s pretty clear to us at TR that it actually is, or should be, the saving of innocent lives from the savagery of this organization. Our fight with ISIS is over life and territory, not words.

Ninth is where it starts to get a bit complicated and uncomfortable and where we hope you will indulge us in some commentary. Various American talking heads have argued that it’s impossible to describe in English exactly what the word “Daesh” means. But that’s simply not true. Many of the people making that argument are the same ones that argue that we in the West can never truly understand anyone in the Middle East, a viewpoint that we find simultaneously both patronizes (at best) Middle Easterners and imbues this particular group ISIS with some sort of mystical power that it does not have. Yes, the guys who make up this organization definitely see the world differently that you or I do, but they’re not extraterrestrial. As anyone who speaks a foreign language knows, there simply are not always direct word-to-word translations between languages, but words always can ultimately be translated – it just sometimes takes a lot of English words, for example, to fully convey the meaning of one Arabic word, and vice versa. There is nothing unique about Arabic in that regard – the same can be said of Spanish or Japanese or Swahili. A lot of people going on and on in the media about the significance of the word “Daesh” are not bilingual in Arabic and English, and some don’t speak any Arabic at all, so keep that in mind.

Contrary to what some so-called “experts” proclaim, you absolutely can get the gist of the terminology in use around this organization without having to go out and get a personal tutor in Arabic. Sure, there are some subtle layers of meaning here, but you don’t need a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies to obtain a basic sense of this organization. There is no voodoo here, and explaining the significance of “Daesh” is not rocket science – we just did it in under 1000 words. Yes, much of the reason many Americans have a hard time getting their minds around all of the nuance here is that English is an inherently different language from Arabic, and we use it very differently. At the same time, every time a non-Arabic speaker recycles incorrect information about the word or tries to say Arabic is just so different and mysterious that we can never understand it, they are not only giving you bad intel but they are trying to make you think it is impossible for you to have any understanding of the word or the organization or the Arabic speaking world in which it operates. And that is simply not true.

Now, does every diplomat, world leader, other Westerner who chooses to use the term “Daesh” understand all of the above and the deeper layers of meaning as well? Perhaps not, but they likely understand more of it than they get credit for. After all, you have just spent about 20 minutes reading about the topic and now know a great deal more than when you started reading, and many of the world’s leaders have been working on this issue full-time for years. The same is not necessarily true for many of the talking heads in the media. When they tell you that it is “impossible” to explain what an Arabic word means that may mean that they personally don’t have the intellectual heft to do so, but, in fact, it is entirely possible for an American to learn the back story behind an Arabic word – it just takes a bit of effort. It is bizarre to us at TR that many in the media seem to just parrot each other as primary sources without doing their own independent research to verify whether how they are explaining a word’s meaning is accurate. For example, there is an enormous community of bilingual Arabic-English speakers in this country who would be happy to be consulted on these matters. And there also are numerous free online translating tools. We can’t help but wonder – if we were talking about Russian instead of Arabic, would there be this much assertion of “mystery” and “impossibility” regarding a word’s meaning? Is it just laziness on the part of the media, or is it something more fundamental? Would they accept at face value any definition they were given of a Chinese word, or would they do some investigation?

And, unfortunately, we have to note that the European press has done an excellent job of explaining all of this to its readers, so, again, it’s possible. It’s eminently do-able. That’s one of the many reasons that intelligence professionals read foreign newspapers and magazines, and we at TR encourage you to at least once in a while get some of your news from non-American sources.

We are focused on the misinformation about the word “Daesh” in this article, but there of course there are many other examples of bad journalism in the American media as well. It is particularly sad in this case, however, given the gruesome nature of this organization, that the American media has so missed the larger story of its name, the meaning, and the explanations/controversy behind it. Furthermore, it is sad is that it seems to reflect a larger habit of rolling all Arabic speaking Muslims into one group without understanding what a diverse group it is and how many natural allies we have among that population. In fact, not to blow your mind, but within the Arabic speaking world, there are actually are even more satirical and pejorative names for the organization, but we promise not to inflict all of those upon you, at least not today.

Here endeth the commentary, and that’s about all we want to say about the word “Daesh”.

To wrap up our look at the various names for the organization we at TR have chosen to call ISIS, we would like to note that there are cases where the word one uses to describe an organization or a country or a place is inherently fraught and, in and of itself, a significant political statement, the best known modern example of that being the distinction between using “Burma” or “Myanmar” to refer to that country. (The significance of that particular distinction is of course beyond the scope of this article.) With regard to ISIS, however, we at TR, reflecting the view of most within the USG, do not see that as being the case with this organization; we view its various names as interchangeable. Of course, not everybody sees it that way, and that is their right, and now you know a little bit about why that is. Important takeaways from this discussion are (1) the term one uses to refer to the organization can, but does not always, reflect the speaker’s political perspective, and (2) all these names ultimately refer to the exact same group.

In choosing to call the organization “ISIS”, we at TR make no deliberate philosophical or political statement. Our primary motivation is to make this series as accessible as possible to our mostly American readers. As far as we are concerned, you can call the organization whatever you want. A terrorist organization by any name at all still smells pretty rotten.

Chapter 2

Salafi Jihadism – An introduction to what you need to know.

This is the second in a series that Tactical Rabbit will bring you about ISIS: its purpose, history, and organization. In this second installment, we begin to discuss Salafi jihadism.
Most of our readers are somewhat familiar with the term “jihad”, or think they are, but the brand of jihad that ISIS practices actually is known as Salafi jihadism. What in the world is that, you ask? An introduction to Salafi jihadism is the topic of this installment of TR’s series on ISIS.

The broadest general definition of Salafi jihadism is “a transnational religious-political ideology based on a belief in ‘physical jihadism’ and the Salafi movement of returning to what adherents believe to be true Sunni Islam”. Of course, that definition still leads to a lot of head scratching, so let’s break it down a bit.

As a starting point, it is important to understand about Salafi jihadism is the fact that it is transnational. That is – it is an ideology that endorses carrying out actions across national borders with the purpose of having effects at a very general level. An example of a transnational organization (though, obviously, not a Salafi jihadist one) is the European Union.

Transnational organizations are not international (which refers to organizations that exist among national governments and are controlled by those governments) or supranational (which indicates organizations with powers that have been delegated to them from lower levels of government). These movements exist through and across borders – they don’t have as their primary purpose the changing of any existing borders, and they typically do not have any interest in working WITH national governments. Important to understanding this concept is the principle of governance called subsidiarity which says that actions ought to be taken at the lowest level of government in order to maximize democratic accountability and responsiveness to individual needs. Some transnationalists use this principle to argue that they are closer to “the will of the people” than national governments are.

Second, Salafi jihadism is an ideology, or a comprehensive set of normative beliefs, conscious and unconscious ideas, that are held by the individuals who subscribe to it, the groups that endorse it, and even the societies in which it exists. However, an ideology is narrower than a worldview, social imaginery, or ontology – it exists within those broader concepts. An example of a political ideology is the concept that there is a dominant class in society (the elite, the 1%, the nobility, etc.) – that is an important ideology, for example, in both Marxism and critical theory. But one can also subscribe to that class ideology and not be a Marxist. Similarly, Salafi jihadism is a set of beliefs that endorses carrying out religious and political actions across national borders, but it does not describe the entire point of view, or set of values, or understanding of reality of its various adherents. In other words, all Salafi jihadists subscribe to this concept of carrying out religious and political actions across national borders, but among them, they differ, in some cases quite dramatically, in terms of their knowledge of the world, the institutions and laws they believe in, and their basic understanding of existence. Not all Salafi jihadists are ISIS allies.

Third, as the term itself indicates, Salafi jihadists have a fundamental belief in jihadism. While “jihad” has its own meaning which we won’t dive into right now, “jihadism” (and “jihadist” and “jihadi movement”) is actually a relatively new word coined less than 20 years ago that doesn’t really exist in Arabic but only in Western languages. Jihadism is used to described Islamist militant movements that either are, or act like, militaries, that are rooted in Islam, and that threaten the very existence of the West. You will hear a lot of different specific definitions of jihadism, and that is okay – it is a new word, and there is no academic consensus yet on precisely what it means. Similarly, for our purposes here, we are going to let the word “Islamist” also go undefined for now, because its definition also is challenging and can be controversial. The word “jihadism” was first used publicly by members of the media in South Asia, and then, after 9/11, increasingly by the American media. As frustrating as it is, we aren’t going to offer you a more specific definition of jihadism right now. We will, instead, demur and paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quip about pornography, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it”.

Fourth, as also indicated by the name, Salafi jihadism believes in the Salafi movement (or “Salafist movement” or “Salafism”), which is an ultra-conservative reform branch within Sunni Islam that developed on the Arabian peninsula about 300 years ago. It advocates a return to the practices of the forefathers (known as “the salaf”), based on what the founders of Salafism understand to be the practices of the salaf. That is, Salafists believe they know better than anyone else what the practices of the salaf were and will brook no dissent about it, even though other Muslim scholars may vehemently disagree with what Salafists say about how the salaf lived. The Salafists are self-proclaimed experts on the matter, and the Salafist movement is entirely centered around the idea of looking back in history for ideas about how to live in the modern world.

Finally, Salafi jihadists are Sunni Muslims – Sunni Islam is the largest denomination of Islam. “Sunni” comes from the word “Sunnah” which describes the holiness of the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s behavior. As you may know, there are differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and the original basis for those was a disagreement over who was the proper successor of Muhammad. Over the generations, that initial difference has grown into some quite marked political and theological disputes, as well as very different views about the role of Islamic jurisprudence in society.

“Salafi jihadism” (or “jihadist Salafism”) as a phrase was coined by Gilles Kepel in 2002 to describe what he was seeing as a hybrid Islamist ideology developing in Islamist volunteers (who came from all over the world) in Afghanistan in the jihad against the Soviets there. The ideology seemed to grow most among those who were disconnected from their home countries and cultural norms.

Let’s remember whom Professor Kepel was observing when he created the term “Salafi jihadism” – the group known as Afghan Arabs (or Arab-Afghans) who traveled to Afghanistan both during and after the Soviet-Afghan War to help their fellow Muslims fight the Soviets (and the pro-Soviet Afghans). It’s important to convey a couple of things about this group: (1) even though they are called “Afghan Arabs”, they weren’t all Arab, (2) however, they were all Muslim and, more than that, Islamist, and (3) you may have heard them referred to as the “mujahideen”, which is an Arab word that translates roughly as “wagers of jihad”. There were from 20,000 to 35,000 people in this group. Most of the Western coverage of this group has focused on the fact that they probably weren’t a big enough force to have had a measurable impact in the war’s outcome, which may be true. But that doesn’t change the fact that Muslim Arabs almost universally saw them as heroes and gave them credit for defeating the Soviet Union. Among the most important aspects of the Soviet Union from the perspective of Muslim Arabs was that it was an atheist, anti-religious, and Communist regime, so there was an enormous symbolism to Muslim Arabs in its defeat. Based on what the mujahideen saw as their success, and what their scores of adoring fans at home told them was their success, they became emboldened to then begin waging jihad against other governments, including their own.

So that is the group among which Salafi jihadism was first identified as a phenomenon.

Martin Kramer has since said that “Salafi jihadism” will almost inevitably be simplified and ultimately become known simply as jihadism (or “the jihadist movement”) – time will tell.
And there you have a good basic introduction to the ideology. Next week, we will further explore the history of the movement and some additional definitions of terms important to understanding it.

For those of you interested in following this topic more closely, we highly recommend following the writings and remarks of the two men mentioned above: Gilles Kepel and Martin Kramer. Kepel (currently in his 60s) is a French political scientist and Arabist who specializes in the modern Middle East and in Muslims living in the West. He is resident at the Paris Institute for Political Studies, commonly known as Sciences Po, and is director of the Middle East and Mediterranean at Paris Sciences and Lettres Research University, known as PSL, which is based at the Ecole Normale Superieure. Without doubt, he is one of the world’s leading experts on militant Islam. Kramer is also in his 60s and is an American-born, dual American-Israeli scholar of the Middle East, based at Shalem College in Jerusalem. His specialties are Islam and Arab Politics. After studying Middle Eastern Studies with Itamar Rabinovich at Tel Aviv University, Kramer then received a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton.

Chapter 3

Salafi Jihadism – A brief history

This is the third in a series that Tactical Rabbit will bring you about ISIS: its purpose, history, and organization. In this third installment, we provide an overview of the history Salafi jihadism.

Last week we told you that the term Salafi jihadism was first coined in 2002, and that is true. However, the roots of the ideology go back farther than the coning of the term. In this installment of TR’s series on ISIS, a brief overview of its development.

We’ll begin our journey with the life and writings of Islamist author Sayyid (aka Said aka Syed aka Seyyid aka Sayed) Qutb (aka Koteb aka Qutub aka Kotb aka Kutb), who was born in Egypt in 1906 and whose legacy has had an important impact on what has evolved into SJ. Qutb was a teacher, Muslim theorist, poet, and the leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood 50 to 60 years ago. The Muslim Brotherhood aka Jama’at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (technically, “the Society of the Muslim Brothers”) aka al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (MB) is a transnational Sunni Islamist organization founded in Egypt by Muslim scholar and schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna when Qutb was a child. MB’s model was to combine political activism with Muslim charity work, which gained it supporters across the Arab world and was a major influence on other Islamist groups like Hamas. It has of course also played an important role in the last few years, but we will come back to that in a bit.

Not only was Qutb the leading member of MB by the time he was an adult, he was also the author of 24 books, including several novels, literary criticism, and treatises on education. He is best known today among Muslims for his books Social Justice and Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (“Milestones”), which outline his beliefs about the role Islam should play in society and politics.
Qutb’s main argument was that the world was in crisis and that the Muslim world was being replaced with jahiliyah or Jahiliyyah or gahiliyyah (“existing in a state of ignorance or refusal to believe” especially with regard to ignorance that is pagan in nature). Jahiliyah technically refers to the state of affairs in Arabia before the advent of Islam and sometimes is translated the “Age of Ignorance”. The root of the word is jahala (“to be stupid, to be ignorant, to act stupidly”). There is also embedded within it a uniquely Muslim concept of time, but that’s a rabbit hole we won’t go down right now. Moreover, Qutb promoted takfirism (“belief in excommunication”) of a government or society for jahiliyah. Takfir or takfeer roughly translates as “declaration that a fellow Muslim is actually outside the faith and therefore can be legally executed”. This concept is Islamist and very controversial. It is essentially a form of excommunication allowed when one Muslim basically calls another Muslim a kafir (“non-believer”), and it can also mean anathema. Before there was such a thing as takfir, there was mukaffir, but, once again, that concept is a complex one we won’t unravel today. In 1966, Qutb was convicted of conspiring to assassinate Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and was hung.

Around the time of Qutb’s death, Shukri Mustafa branched off from MB a radical Islamist group officially known as Jama’at al-Muslimin, but popularly as Takfir wal-Hijra (TWH). Hijra means “exodus” or “emigration” or “exile”. In 1978, TWH kidnapped and killed a former Muslim scholar and Egyptian government minister, after which the Egyptian government destroyed the organization. Nevertheless, TWH left a legacy that Islamist extremists picked up on over the next 25 years. Just a few years after TWH was destroyed, Gilles Kepel encountered people in Europe whom he would later classify as Salafis, but at the time, he found them not at all interested in politics.

The more recent history of the SJ movement starts about 10 years after that, when extreme jihadists of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya were attacking police, government officials, and tourists in Egypt, and the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria was a major player in the Algerian Civil War.

Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya aka El Gama’a El Islamiyya aka al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Arabic for “the Islamic Group”) aka Gamaat Islamiya al Jamaat al Islamiya (“Islamic Groups”) (JI) is an Egyptian, Sunni, Islamist organization that the US, UK, and EU all have designated a terrorist group. Its goal was the overthrow of the Egyptian government and replacement of it with an Islamic State. From 1992 to 1998, JI fought an insurgency against the then Egyptian government that killed approximately 800 people, including police officers, soldiers, JI fighters, and civilians (among them a score of tourists). JI targeted primarily police and government officials but also actively targeted civilians and tourists. While JI was the primary force behind attacks in Egypt in the 1990s, Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) also participated. One of the first and best known of EIJ’s attacks was the 1990 attempted assassination of Egyptian Interior Minister Abdel Halim Moussa that resulted in the death not of Moussa but instead that of Parliament Speaker Rifaat el-Mahgoub.

Meanwhile, the Algerian Civil War was raging, fought between the Algerian government and army on one side and an array of Islamic rebel groups on the other, of which rebel groups there were two primary ones. Of those two, one was the Armed Islamic Group (or Groupe Islamique Arme or al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha) (GIA). The war began in 1991 when the Islamist group Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the first round of parliamentary elections, which resulted in a military coup a year later, during which something like 10,000 FIS officials were arrested and interned. As a result, FIS split into smaller armed groups, some of which later combined to form GIA. At first, it looked to all like the government had suppressed the Islamist groups, but war slowly built, with various groups coming into existence, all with the purpose of waging jihad. During this time, GIA had a series of amirs (or “commanders”), each of whom, in turn, was arrested or killed. By 1994, violence ravaged the country, and it looked like the government would fall. Very quickly, however, the Islamists’ tactics of violence and plunder lost them support among the people. No later than 1997, it was clear the Islamists would lose, although fighting continued for the next several years.

Simultaneously, Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and other Arab volunteers were in Afghanistan fighting against the Soviet invasion. Around the time that JI and GIA were active in Egypt and Algeria, respectively, bin Laden, Assam, and some of the other volunteers founded Al-Qaeda aka al-Qaida aka al-Qada aka al-Qa’ida (meaning “The Base” or “The Foundation” or “The Fundament”) (AQ), a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization. AQ operates not as a single group but as a network of groups, all of which are Islamic extremist and Salafi jihadist. TWH was a major inspiration for AQ in terms of tactics. Yes, pretty much everyone in the world agrees that AQ is a terrorist group (the United Nations, NATO, the EU, the US, Russia, India, etc.).
By this time, as Kepel writes in his book Jihad (which we at TR highly recommend), the doctrine of Salafi jihadism had become a combination of “respect for the sacred texts in their most literal form, … with an absolute commitment to jihad, whose number-one target had to be America, perceived as the greatest enemy of the faith.” SJs were by then making it clear they were not “sheikist” salafis. “Sheikist” was a pejorative term that the jihadists used to describe people they believed had given up adoring God to instead adore the oil sheiks of the Arabian peninsula. The jihadists further believed the Al Saud family controlled these other sheiks. It was just a few years after the founding of AQ that Kepel officially coined the phrase “Salafi jihadism” and those who adhere to the ideology as “Salafi jihadis” or “Salafi jihadists”. When Kepel coined this phrase, however, as you can see, the ideology had been evolving for almost 100 years.
Let’s turn now to a more detailed analysis of what SJ looks like today.

Mohammed M. Hafez, Chair of the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, has defined Salafi jihadism as an “extreme form of Sunni Islamism that rejects democracy and Shia rule”. In other words, SJs operating in the current world, oppose a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a government (for example, a parliament). SJs do not believe in the rule of the majority. They reject any system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what people do, but no one force actually controls what happens and what the results are. An important SJ belief is that there should be one force in control (Islam, as they define it) and that only certain outcomes are acceptable.

SJs also oppose any rule by the Shia (or Shi’ah, which comes from Shi’atu Ali, meaning “followers of Ali”). Let’s quickly describe the origin of the split between Sunni and Shia Islam. Shia is a branch of Islam that has as its core tenet a belief that the prophet Muhammad named Ali ibn Abi Talib as his Imam (meaning “successor”), Ali being from the Banu Hashim, the same tribe as Muhammad. Sunni Muslims, in contrast, believe that Muhammad did not specifically name a successor, and they believe Abu Bakr was the correct Caliph (Abu Bakr was appointed Caliph through a Shura, meaning “community consensus”). Following that, there were then three Rashidun caliphs, but none of them were from the Banu Hashim. Nevertheless, SJs reject any doctrine that holds that anyone other than Abu Bakr was the correct successor to Muhammad, and therefore they reject Shia.

Hafez goes on to define current Salafi jihadism as having “five features”:

1.Overwhelming emphasis on tawhid or tawheed or touheed or tevhid (which means “unity of God”). Islam is a monotheist religion and has as a core belief that God is indivisible, God is one. It is the biggest and most important part of the Muslim faith. Everything else about the religion rests on Al-‘Ahad (“God is one”) and Al-Wahid (“God is singular”). Islam is fundamentally a unitarian religion.

2.Hakimiyyat Allah (meaning “sovereignty of God”) – in other words, only God can distinguish right from wrong and good from bad. God always overrules anything humans think, and God rules over all places and all times. Therefore, any thinking that is un-Islamic, such as humanism or liberalism, is totally unnecessary and irrelevant.

3.Rejection of any bid’ah (meaning “innovation”) in Islam. Bid’ah specifically refers to any new religious thinking. Accordingly, it can also be translated, depending on context, as “novelty or heretical doctrine or heresy”, but none of those is its essential meaning, which really is “innovation”. It is important to understand that, in other contexts, bid’ah is something very positive. For example, in adab (“classic Arabic literature”), bid’ah is a way of praising a particularly beautiful piece of prose or poetry.

4.Belief in the necessity and permissibility of takfir.

5.Devotion to jihad against infidel governments. And now we come to the translation of the troublesome word “jihad”. Technically, in Arabic, it kind of translates as “struggling or working hard at, especially when the goal is noble”. It is a word that can actually mean a lot of different things to Muslims, for example, fighting against one’s own demons, working to spread the faith, trying to make society a better place, etc. But, yes, most often it does have a connotation of war. In the historic scriptures, it is important to note that jihad usually meant literally waging war against non-believers, but currently most Muslim scholars would say that military jihad is only justified when it is engaged in as a defensive measure. Whether the original literal meaning or the more modern understanding is the correct one is, of course, a source of ferocious debate within Islam.

Thomas Hegghammer, an academic specialist on violent Islamism, has added to Hafez’s list of the five features of an SJ group a list of five goals that SJs have:

1.Changing the way society and the government are organized (his examples are GIA and one of its compatriot groups, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, fighting for the overthrow of the Algerian government and its replacement with an Islamic one).

2.Achieving sovereignty of territory ruled by or primarily inhabited by non-Muslims (his examples are the Pakistani group Lashkar -e-Taiba (“Soldiers of the Pure”) fighting for control of the Kashmir area in India and the objective of establishing a Caucasus Emirate within Russia).

3.Defending the ummah (literally “community” but usually meaning specifically “the Muslim community”) from non-Muslim threats coming from outside of it, either from (1) al-adou al-garib (essentially “the near enemy”), an example of which is Arabs who travelled to Bosnia and Chechnya to defend Muslims against local non-Muslim militaries operating there, or (2) al-adou al-baid (essentially, “the far enemy”), an example of which is Al-Qaeda’s attacks on Western democracies. Please note that the Arabic word ummah has an entirely different meaning tham the word Sha’b (which roughly translates as “a group of people living in the same place or having the same ancestry”). Ummah really means a group that is larger than a single nation and yet shares a common history.

4.Correcting other Muslims when they behave improperly (his example is Indonesia vigilantes waging war against “deviants” first with, literally, sticks and stones, but now with guns and bombs).

5.Scaring and shunning Muslims from other sects (his example is Lashkar-e-Jhangyi waging violence on Pakistani Shia for a generation now, plus similar killings in Iraq).

As far as ritual, United States Institute of Peach Distinguished Scholar Robin Wright has written that SJs focus on:

1.Bay’ah (basically “pledge of allegiance” but in a very formal taking-of-an-oath kind of way and to a specific leader). Individual people can take Bay’ah to an individual amir, or a particular group can take Bay’ah to a larger (often transnationalist) group. Bay’ah is a Muslim thing – you can’t make Bay’ah in a secular way. Muhammad practiced Bay’ah. Sometimes it is done in writing. It also can be made by a leader to his people, in which case it is basically a mutual pact: as long as he keeps certain commitments to them, they will stay loyal to him.

2.What is called marbling, which is when an individual group pretends to renounce a larger movement because that movement has become unpopular and it is in the political or financial interests of the individual group to pretend to have severed ties. For example Al-Nusra Front (ANF) aka Jabhat al-Nusra “publicly” cut ties to AQ, with AQ’s blessing. ANF was founded about five years ago and is an SJ organization fighting against the Syrian government in the Syrian Civil War, and its goal is to establish an Islamic state in Syria. It was designated a terrorist organization by the US, after which the UN and other countries did the same. But hold that thought about ANF “cutting ties” with AQ- we’re going to come back to that in a minute.
Michael Horowitz wrote several years ago in an excellent piece for Middle East Strategy at Harvard that Salafi jihadism is a doctrine based on what is seen as “persistent attacks and humiliation of Muslims on the part of an anti-Islamic alliance of what it terms ‘Crusaders’, ‘Zionists’, and ‘apostates’.”

Jamal Al Sharif, a journalist for Al Jazeera, wrote for the AlJazeera Center of Studies that SJ is a combination of “the doctrinal content and approach of Salafism and organizational models from Muslim Brotherhood organizations. Their motto emerged as ‘Salafism in doctrine, modernity in confrontation’.”

Important to note, and not realized by most Americans: the Taliban are not Salafi – they are Deobandi, although of course they joined forces with bin Laden and other SJs. What does all that mean? First of all Taliban aka Taleban is a Pashto word, not an Arabic one, and it means “students”. The Taliban does not call themselves that – they call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan or AEA. They are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist movement that is currently waging what they view as a jihad (most of the rest of the world as an insurgency or outright war) in Afghanistan. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban controlled almost all of Afghanistan and enforced very strict sharia (although it is more complicated than that, for our purposes right now, please just read sharia as “Islamic law”). For about a year or two now, the Taliban leader has been Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada. So, what is Deobandi? It is a word that exists in Pashto, Persian, Urdu, Bengali, and Hindi. Deobandism is a revivalist movement within Sunni Islam and exists mostly in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, although it is increasingly prominent in the UK and South Africa. This name comes from a place in India – Deoband, where the school Darul Uloom Deoband is located. Without getting too down into the weeds, within Sunni Islam, there are four main schools of jurisprudence, and one of them is called Hanafi. The ideology of Deobandism exists mostly within the Hanafi school and has a more scholarly and region-specific focus than Salafism.

Finally, as promised, just a couple of postscripts on the current status of some of the SJ organizations mentioned above. After the January Revolution in Egypt in 2011, MB sponsored the elected party the next year. Subsequently, because MB was alleged to engage in terrorist activities, it was repeatedly subject to Egyptian government crackdowns. Following the coup that removed Mohamed Morsi from power in Egypt, JI committed itself to peaceful actions. A few years after that, several countries designated MB a terrorist organization, including Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Syria. Around the same time, ANF changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham aka Jabhat Fatah al Sam aka al-Qaeda in Syria aka al-Qaeda in the Levant. So much for “cutting ties”, right?

Chapter 4

Salafi Jihadism – Recent leaders and groups

This is the fourth in a series that Tactical Rabbit will bring you about ISIS: its purpose, history, and organization. In this fourth installment, we build on the history we provided last week and shed more light on important modern Salafi jihadist (SJ) leaders and groups.

As previously discussed, Gilles Kepel coined the phrase “Salafi jihadism” while observing the Arab volunteers engaged in the Afghan jihad. Indeed, over the past 20 years or so, the most important SJ theoreticians have largely been Afghan jihad alumni, although the movement also holds some dissident Saudi preachers in high esteem.

Of the Afghan veterans, the most important have been:

•Abu Qatada aka Abu Qatada al-Filistini aka Abu Qatata the Palestinian aka Omar Mahmoud Othman aka Umar ibn Mahmud ibn Utman. 59 years old, Salafi cleric from Palestine, Jordanian national, currently living freely in Jordan. At about 34, he claimed asylum in the UK on a forged passport. He was subsequently accused of having links to various terrorist organizations and repeatedly imprisoned in the UK, although without formal charges and prosecution. Ultimately, he was deported to Jordan, where courts have found him innocent of a host of terrorism charges.

•Mustafa Setmariam Nasar aka Abu Musab al-Suri aka Mustafa bin Abd al-Qadir Setmariam Nasar. Syrian writer and suspected AQ member, currently imprisoned in Syria. He is wanted in Spain for the El Descanso bombing in 1985 that killed 18 people in a restaurant in Madrid. A few years after that, he married a Spanish woman and became a Spanish citizen. Subsequently, Abu Musab became wanted as a witness connected to the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

•The Hook Hand aka Mustapha Kamel aka Abu Hamza al-Masri (meaning the Egyptian father of Hamza) aka Abu Hamza. Egyptian national and cleric, currently serving a life sentence in supermax in Colorado. Abu Hamza served as the imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque in London and preached Islamic fundamentalism and militant Islamism. In 2004, the US requested that he be extradited, and British police arrested him. The Brits subsequently also charged him with more than a dozen offences, including inciting violence and racial hatred.

•Osama bin Laden (Anglicized version) aka Usama ibn Mohammed ibn Awad ibn Ladin aka Usamah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘awad ibn Ladin. Deceased. Bin Laden was of course the best known of this group. Saudi. Founded al-Qaeda (AQ) and orchestrated the September 11 attacks, as well as many other mass casualty attacks worldwide. Ethnically a Yemeni Kindite, he was born into the family of billionaire Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden.

Of the Saudi preachers, the two most important are:

•Salman al-Ouda aka Salman bin Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ouda aka Salman al-Oadah aka Salman Al-Audah aka Salman Al-Awdah aka Abu Mu’ad. About 63 years old, Saudi Sheikh (“cleric”) and Muslim scholar. Member of, and on the Board of Trustees for, the International Union for Muslim Scholars. Also is a director of the Arabic version of the website Islam Today. Regularly appears on TV and writes newspaper articles.

•Safar Al-Hawali aka Safar bin Abdul Rahman al-Hawali Alghamdi. 68 years old, Saudi Islamic scholar, currently residing in Mecca. Received his doctorate in Islamic theology from Umm al-Qura University in Mecca at age 36. Came to prominence a few years later as a leader of the Sahwah movement (which opposes the presence of US troops on the Arabian peninsula).

The most prominent SJ groups over the last 25 years have been (all of which we discussed in our last article):

•AQ. Global. Probably the most famous and effective SJ group.

•Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Was based in Algeria, now defunct. As you may recall from our discussion in our last article, the Algerian Civil War started 25 years ago and lasted about six years. In the war, GIA and the Armee Islamique du Salut (AIS) were the two major Islamist groups that fought against the Algerian army and security forces. GIA included veterans of the Afghan jihad and fought to create an atmosphere of generalized instability by using terror attacks to destabilize the government (AIS was more moderate). For GIA, jihad in Algeria was fard ayn (“an obligation for all adult, male, sane Muslims”), and it saw itself as purging Algeria of the ungodly. Its goal was an Islamic state.

•Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (JI). Based in Egypt, now devoted to peaceful actions. As a reminder, JI, whose name again means “the Islamic Group”, was an SJ movement that fought an insurgency against the Egyptian government at the same time that GIA was operating. It killed 800 police officers, soldiers, jihadists, and civilians during this time.

Jamestown Foundation Islamic Groups Analyst Murad Al-shishani divides modern SJs into 3 “generations”, based on where they waged jihad. Note, however, that the jihad waged and the influence of the SJ movement in each of these wars was not contained to the country in which it occurred. Indeed, we think the geographic and demographic context of each of these countries is crucial to understanding the relevance of each “generation” of SJs. For that reason, we will provide some additional context here:

•First Generation: Fought in Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The name comes from the Pashto word Afganistan and the Dari word Afganestan. It has a population of 35 million and an area of 252,000 square miles, making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest country in the world. Totally landlocked and located in South/Central Asia, bordered by Pakistan (South and East); Iran (West); Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan (North); and China and Gilgit Baltistan (claimed by India but administered by Pakistan) (Northeast).

•Second Generation: Fought in Bosnia (informal name), officially Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). The name comes from the Bosnian and Serbian words Bosna and Hercegovina and the Croatian words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Located on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe, bordered by Croatia (North and West); Serbia (East); Montenegro (Southeast); and the Adriatic Sea (South). Coastline is about 12 miles long and surrounds the town of Neum. Land is mountainous in the Central and Eastern regions, moderately hilly in the Northwest, and predominately flat in the Northeast. Capital is Sarajevo.

•Third Generation: Currently fighting in Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq. The name comes from the Arabic word al-Iraq and the Kurdish word Eraq (the official name in each language being Jumhuriyyat al-Iraq in Arabic and Komari Eraq in Kurdish). Located in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey (North); Iran (East); Kuwait (Southeast); Saudi Arabia (South); Jordan (Southwest); and Syria (West). Capital is Baghdad. Main ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds, but there are also Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians, and Kawliya.
At this time, the primary spots for operating SJ groups are Syria/Iraq, Gaza/Jordan, the Caucasus Region, Thailand.


About twelve years ago, the two major groups within the SJ camp in Iraq were:

•The Mujahidin Shura Council (MSC). umbrella group of at least six Sunni Islamic insurgent groups fighting the Iraq insurgency against US, coalition, and Iraqi forces: Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn aka AQ in Iraq; Jaish al-Ta’ifa al-Mansurah; Katbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal-Sunnah; the Saray al-Jihad Group; the al-Ghuraba Brigades, and the al-Ahwal Brigades. At the time, USG believed AQ in Iraq was the most significant political force in Al Anbar.

•Jamaat Ansar al-Sunnah (“Assembly of the Helpers of Sunnah”) aka the Ansar al-Sunna Group aka Jama’at Ansar as-Sunnah aka Jaish Ansar al-Sunna (AAS). Comprised of Iraqi Sunni insurgents that fought against the US and Iraqis working with the US. Based in North and Central Iraq and almost entirely Sunni Iraqi (including both Arab and Kurdish fighters).
Within a couple of years of MSC and AAS becoming the predominant organizations in Iraq, they both split up. AAS split into: Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Sunnah Shariah Committee (which about four years later changed its name to Ansar al-Ahlu Sunnah). Around the same time, MSC issued a statement saying that it had been disbanded and was being replaced by, what? Islamic State in Iraq. And you see how this all comes full circle, and why it is necessary to understand SJ in-depth in order to understand ISIS.
By the time AAS split up and MSC became Islamic State in Iraq, Arab fighters in Iraq had become the latest and most important development of the global SJ movement. Syrian-American Author and Journalist Hassan Hassan has written that ISIS reflects an ideological shake-up of Sunni Islam’s traditional Salafism, which was traditionally inward looking and loyal to the establishment. He believes that, ever since the Arab Spring started seven years ago, SJ has been slowly and steadily eroding Salafism. Of course, ISIS has at least one SJ competitor in Iraq and Syria: Jabhat al-Nusra (ANF), which we discussed last time.

Chair of the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School Mohammed M. Hafez has stated that SJs in Iraq are now pursuing a system-collapse strategy, with the goal of creating an “Islamic emirate based on Sunni dominance, similar to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.” SJs in Iraq have targeted occupation/coalition personnel but focus mainly on Iraqi security forces and Shia civilians. In addition, they target foreign journalists, translators, and drivers and look to sabotage and undermine the economic and physical infrastructure of the country.


The Gaza Strip (or Qita or Gazzah or Gaza) is a small self-governing Palestinian region on the East coast of the Mediterranean. Brders Egypt (Southwest) for about seven miles and Israel (East and North) for 32 miles. Together with the West Bank, but separated from it by Israeli territory, Gaza constitutes the Palestinian territories that Palestinians claim as the Palestinian State. About 11 years ago, Hamas (an Arabic acronym for Harakat al-Mugawamah al-Islamiyyah, meaning “Islamic Resistance Movement”) took over Gaza and became its de facto governing authority. Hamas is a Palestinian, Sunni, Islamic, fundamentalist group with two wings: Dawah (social service) and the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (military).

Jund Ansar Allah (“Soldiers of the Supporters of Allah”) (JAA) is an armed SJ group also operating in Gaza. Two years after Hamas took over Gaza, JAA’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdel Latif Moussa, announced that it was establishing an Islamic emirate in the Palestinian territories. He also criticized Hamas for not enforcing Shariah law. In response to Moussa’s attacks on Hamas, Hamas began attacking JAA.

Around the same time, Vittorio Arrigoni was working as an Italian reporter, writer, pacifist, and activist, in partnership with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza. Arrigoni was part of a social movement that seeks to achieve ideals such as the ending of wars, minimizing inter-human violence in particular places and types of situations, and achieving world peace. He used various means to achieve these ends, including advocacy of pacifism, non-violent resistance, diplomacy, boycotts, peace camps, moral purchasing, supporting anti-war candidates, legislation to remove the profit from government contracts to the military-industrial complex, banning guns, creating open government and transparency tools, direct diplomacy, supporting whistleblowers who expose war crimes and conspiracies to create wars, demonstrations, and national political lobbying groups to create legislation. The political cooperative he participated in sought to merge all peace movement organizations and green organizations, some of which have diverse goals, but all of which have the common goal of peace and humane sustainability. Around the time Hamas and JAA were attacking each other, Arrigoni began maintaining a website called Guerrilla Radio and simultaneously published a book of his experiences in Gaza during the Gaza War between Hamas and Israel. Three years later, SJs kidnapped and killed him. He was 36.

At the same time, SJs were actively involved in protests against King Abdullah II of Jordan aka Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein aka Abdullah at-tani ibn Al-Husayn (King Abdullah). King Abdullah is 56 years old and claims to be a 41st generation direct descendant of Muhammad because he is a member of the Hashemite family. His family has ruled Jordan for almost 100 years. Abdullah was the first child of King Hussein and his second wife, Princess Muna, who was born in the UK. Hussein died when Abdullah was 37, at which time Abdullah became King.


In the North Caucasus area of Russia, the nationalism of Muslim Chechnya and Dagestan was replaced by the Caucasus Emirate (or Caucasian Emirate) (CE), which had a hard-line, SJ, takfiri, militant ideology. CE (now mostly defunct) was active in the Southwest of Russia, with an intent of expelling the Russian presence from the North Caucasus and the establishment of an independent Islamic emirate there. The term CE refers both to the organization and the state that it sought to establish.


Twelve years ago, a group with definite SJ leanings began leading the Islamist insurgency in Southern Thailand, with tactics including various attacks as well as cross-border operations. The South Thailand Insurgency (in Malay, Pemberontakan di Selatan Thailand) is a conflict that has been going on for some time now. In 1785, the Kingdom of Siam conquered the former Sultanate of Pattani (or Patani), which included the following regions: (1) the Southern Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala (or Jala), and Narathiwat (or Menara), which together are known as the Southern Border Provinces (SBP); and (2) the neighboring parts of Songkhla Province (or Singgora) and the Northeastern part of Malaysia (or Kelantan). Thailand has governed all of these regions (the SBP and Songkhla Province are together known as the Malay Patani Region), other than Kelantan, ever since. Seventy years ago, the current conflict began as an ethic, religious, separatist insurgency in the Malay Patani Region, but about 17 years ago, it became more complicated than that and much more violent. BRN-Koordinasi aka Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani aka Barisan Revolusi Nasional (“National Revolutionary Front”) (BRN) is an SJ Patani independence movement. Originally established as basically a territorial group, focused on Pattani secessionism, it is now the most powerful rebel group in Northern Malaysia and in the Patani region.

Rand Corporation Political Scientist Seth Jones is among those who have argued that SJ numbers are increasing, not decreasing, as some in the media have asserted. Jones’s research shows:

1.Between 2010 and 2013, the number of SJ groups almost doubled, many of them using unruled parts of Libya and Syria for bases of operations.
2.Whether you use the lowest or the highest estimates of the number of SJ fighters, the number more than doubled over the same period, with the war in Syria being the primary motivator.
3.Attacks by AQ-affiliated groups (ISIS, al-Shabaab, ANF, and AQ in the Arabian Peninsula), worldwide, are increasing.
4.AQ traditionally has focused on the concept of the far enemy (as we discussed last week), but in recent years, almost 100% of AQ and affiliated attacks have been against the near enemy (taking place mostly in North Africa, the Middle East, and places other than the West)
5.In 1988, there were fewer than 10 SJ groups worldwide. Now there are probably 50.

Coming up next week, we will discuss the remaining prominent SJ groups in the world, their significance to understanding ISIS, and the threats they pose to the US.

By the way, the Jamestown Foundation, mentioned briefly above, is based in DC and is an institute for research and analysis. It was founded 32 years ago as a vehicle for supporting Soviet defectors, and its current mission is to inform and educate policy makers about events and trends that it regards as of current strategic importance to the US. Jamestown publishes a variety of items that focus on China, Russia, Eurasia, and global terrorism, and we at TR recommend them all highly.

Chapter 5

In this fifth installment, we provide a brief timeline of significant modern SJ groups.

For the purposes of this article, we define current/recent SJ groups as RAND Corporation Political Scientist Seth Jones does: those emphasizing a return to what they consider pure Islam (that of the Salaf) and those that believe that violent jihad is fard ayn (which roughly translates as a personal religious duty). Fard or faridah is an Arabic Islamic term that denotes a religious duty commanded by Allah. Persian, Pashto, and Turkish all use the same word with the same meaning, and Urdu uses the work farz to mean the same thing. Muslims who obey fards receive hasanat (credit for good deeds), ajr (reward from Allah), and/or thawab (reward) each time, for each good deed.

Here, a rough timeline of important recent/current SJ groups. In the following, please note:

1.Groups that are still active have their names bolded the first time we refer to them. We include those that are not still active because, as you will see, many groups have morphed from their original incarnation, so that the original group officially ceased operations, but the members have gone on to form a new group. In addition, some of the groups below don’t fall into that category but are significant to the overall development and current state of the SJ movement and an understanding of the overall SJ movement. Also included are important historical events and terrorist attacks to put the larger picture of the groups into context.

2.What you will see below is a quick overview of the history/leaders/activities of each group. For those for which we have previously provided that overview, we refer you back to an earlier article in this series. In some cases, we provide some additional information about those groups here. None of the quick overviews provided here or in other TR articles thus far in this series are intended to be comprehensive.

3.There are some groups that we only mention but do not provide additional detail about, because, although they are significant to an overall understanding of the current state of SJ groups, we are not able to make detail about them public at this time without compromising sources and methods. Thank you for your understanding.

4.You will notice that not all groups and leaders that we have previously discussed appear in this series appear in this timeline. This timeline is, again, not intended to be comprehensive but to provide a quick overview of the most significant SJ groups active today, with additional contextual information about other groups and events/circumstances relevant to understanding them.


PHILIPPINES – Moro groups became engaged in an insurgency for an independent province in the Southwestern region.


EGYPT – Founding of Egyptian Islamic Jihad or Islamic Jihad or Liberation Army for Holy Sites or al-Jihad or the Jihad Group or the Jihad Organization (EIJ). Egyptian Islamic terrorist group. Banned by several governments worldwide.


LEBANON – Founding of Osbat al-Ansar or Asbat an-Ansar (League of the Partisans) (AAA). Sunni fundamentalist group. Primary base of operations in the Palestinian camp of Ain al-Hilwah refugee camp near Sidon. Professes the Salafi form of Islam and the overthrow of the Lebanese-dominated, secular government. Designated a terrorist group by the UN, the US, the UK, Canada, Russia, and the UAE.


KASHMIR, PAKISTAN – Founding of Lashkar e-Taiba (Urdu: “Army of the Good” or “Army of the Righteous” or “Army of the Pure”) or Lashkar-e-Toiba or Lashkar-e-Taiba or Lashkar-i-Tayyeba) or Mansoorian (LeT). LeT is one of the largest and most active Islamic terrorist militant groups in South Asia, operating terrorist activities mainly from Pakistan. Founders included Hafiz Saeed, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam (Palestinian from Jordan and well-known preacher and organizer), and Zafar Iqbal in Afghanistan, with funding from Osama bin Laden (Saudi citizen of Yemeni heritage). Headquarters are in Muidke, near Lahore, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Operates several training camps in the part of Kashmir administered by Pakistan.


SAUDI ARABIA –Abdullah Azzam was among the first Arabs to volunteer to join the Afghan Jihad against the forces of the then Soviet Union.
PAKISTAN – Founding of core AQ (refer to earlier TR articles in this series for additional information). Militant Islamist organization.


XINJIANG, CHINA – Founding of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement or Turkistan Islamic Party or Turkestan Islamic Party or Turkistan Islamic Movement or the East Turkestan Islamic Party, among other names (TIP/TIM/ETIP). Islamic extremist separatist organization founded by Uyghur jihadists in Western China. Stated goals include establishing an independent state, East Turkestan, in the Xinjiang area.
AFGHANISTAN/SAUDI ARABIA – Death of Abdullah Azzam, which promptly makes him an important SJ martyr.


KASHMIR, PAKISTAN – LeT’s operations became an important concern.
LEBANON – AAA’s activities became noticeable for the first time.
LIBYA – Founding of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group or Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Mugatilah bi-Libya (LIFG). Members include AQ organizer Abd al-Muhsin al-Libi.
MALI – Tuareg Rebellion commenced, with Iyad Ag Ghaly as one of its most prominent leaders.


PHILIPPINES – Founding of Abu Sayyaf aka Jama’at Abu Sayyaf or the Abu Sayyaf Group or Grupong Abu Sayyaf (in Filipino) or (unofficially) ISIL- Philippines Province (ASG). Name means Father of (Abu) the Swordsmith (Sayyaf). Jihadist militant group that follows the Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam (more on Wahhabism in a future article). Based in and around Jolo and Basilan islands in the Southwestern province. Very violent.
CHECHNYA, RUSSIA – Dzhokhar Dudayev proclaimed the Chechen Republic and began fighting the first of two devastating wars with the Russian Federation, which denounced the Chechen secession. Ethic Russians comprised 29 percent of the Chechen population at this time and generally opposed independence.
LEBANON/SYRIA/GAZA STRIP/QATAR/AFGHANISTAN – Founding of Jund Al-Sham or The Sham Division (JAS). Group of multiple Sunni Islamic jihadist militant organizations.


INDONESIA/MALAYSIA/PHILIPPINES/SINGAPORE – Founding of Jemaah Islamiyah or al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyyah (“Islamic Congregation”) (JI). (Different organization than Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya in Egypt, also referred to as “JI”). Southeast Asian militant extremist Islamist rebel group. Dedicated to the establishment of an Islamic state in this area. Transnational organization with cells in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore.
YEMEN — Before Aden-Abyan Islamic Army (AAIA) was officially organized, the people who later would form it attacked Yemeni socialists before parliamentary actions.


CHECHNYA, RUSSIA – Founding of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria – Basayev faction (same name but spelled differently in Chechen, Cyrillic, and Russian) (ChRI/CRI). Unrecognized secessionist government of the Chechen Republic.
YEMEN – Official founding of AAIA. Islamist militant group based in Southern Yemen. Leader is Zein al-Abideen al-Mehdar aka Abu Al-Hassan El-Mohader.
EGYPT — EIJ came under worldwide embargo by the UN as an AQ affiliate.
SOMALIA/ETHIOPIA – Founding of Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (“The Islamic Union”) (AIAI). Islamist militant group. Considered a terrorist organization by the US, UK, and New Zealand. The Siad Barre regime in Somalia had collapsed by this time, and Somalia was falling into disorder. Bin Laden took advantage of the chaos to fund AIAI. He sent foreign militants who trained and fought alongside AIAI members, with the goal of creating an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa.


MOROCCO – Founding of Salafia Jihadia or al-Salafiya al-jihadiya or As-Sirat al-Moustaquim (ASAM). SJ militant group based in Morocco and Spain with links to AQ. Associated with the people that would later form the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group or Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain (GICM) before GICM became officially founded. Responsible for a series of religiously sanctioned extrajudicial killings. Variously described as a movement or a loose network of groups. Moroccan authorities also use ASAM as a generic term for any militant Salafi activists.
MALI – Tuareg Rebellion ended.


LIBYA – Founding of Harakat al-Shuada’a al Islamiyah (Islamic Martyrs’ Movement) (IMM).


UZBEKISTAN/KYRGYZSTAN – Founding of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Militant Islamist group formed by the Islamic ideologue Tahir Yuldashev and former Soviet paratrooper Juma Namangani, both ethnic Uzbeks from the Fergana Valley. Original objective was to overthrow Uzbek President Islam Karimov and create an Islamic state under Sharia.


IRAQ – Founding of Tawhid wal Jihad or Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (“Organization of Monotheism and Jihad”) or Jama’at (JTJ). Militant Jihadist group led by Jordanian national Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
ALGERIA – Founding of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Islamist militant organization affiliated with AQ with an aim of overthrowing the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state. Engaged in an anti-government campaign. Led by Mali Tuareg Rebellion leader Iyad Ag Ghaly’s cousin Hamada Ag Hama.
MOROCCO – GICM officially founded. SJ terrorist organization affiliated with AQ. One of several North African terrorist franchises spawned in Afghanistan during the tenure of the Taliban. GICM and its associated members have been linked to major terrorist attacks.


LEBANON/SYRIA/GAZA STRIP/QATAR/AFGHANISTAN – JAS became operational and began training in Afghanistan with financial support from Bin Laden.
JORDAN – JTJ became operational.


YEMEN – AAIA involved in the USS Cole bombing in Aden.
TUNISIA/WESTERN EUROPE – Founding of the Tunisian Combatant Group of Jama’a Combattante Tunisienne or Groupe Combattant Tunisien (French) (TCG). Loose network of terrorists that aspires to install an Islamist government in Tunisia. TCG had terrorist cells in the UK, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.


XINGIANG, CHINA – By this time, from the time of its founding, TIP/TIM/ETIP had committed more than 200 acts of terrorism, causing 162 deaths and 440 injuries.
UZBEKISTAN/KYRGYZSTAN — IMU reinvented itself as an ally of AQ and the Taliban.
IRAQ – Founding of Ansar al-Islam or Ansar al-Islam fi Kurdistan (each also used with slightly different pronunciations) (AAI). Sunni Muslim insurgent group that also operates in Syria. Established in Iraqi Kurdistan by former AQ members as a Salafist Islamist movement that imposes a strict application of Sharia in villages it controls around Bivara toward the Northeast of the Halabja (near the Iranian border). Ideology follows a literal interpretation of the Koran and promotes a return to the example of the first Mulsims or Salaf.
LEBANON – After the September 11 attacks, the US froze put AAA on its list of terrorist organizations for having connections with AQ. All AAA assets were frozen.
EGYPT – EIJ ceased operations.


INDONESIA – JI perpetrated Bali bombing. Immediately added to UN Security Council Resolution 1267 as a terrorist group linked to AQ and the Taliban.
UZBEKISTAN – Founding of the Islamic Jihad Group or Jama’at al-Jihad al-Islami (IJG). Militant Islamist organization. Founded as a splinter group of IMU. Headquartered in North Waziristan, a mountainous region of Northwest Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. Affiliated with both AQ and the Taliban. Immediately after founding, began conducting several attacks in Uzbekistan.
SAUDI ARABIA – Founding of AQ in the Arabian Peninsula – Saudi Arabia or Tanzim al-Qa’idah fi Jazirat al-Arab (“AQ Organization in the Arabian Peninsula”) or Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Jazirat al-‘Arab (“Organization of Jihad’s Base in the Arabian Peninsula”) or Ansar al Sharia in Yemen or Jam’at Ansar ash-Shari’ah (“Group of the Helpers of the Sharia”) (AQAP). Militant Islamist organization, also very active in Yemen. Named for AQ and stated it was subordinate to that group and Bin Laden. Was the most active of the AQ branches or franchises that emerged because of weakening central AQ leadership.
SOMALIA – AIAI ceased operations.
SOMALIA – Founding of Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen or Harakat ash-Shabab al-Mujahidin or Xarakada Mujaahidiinta Alshabaab (Somali for “Mujahideen Youth Movement” or “Movement of Striving Youth”) or al-Shabaab (“The Youth” or “The Youngsters” or “The Guys”) (AS). Jihadist fundamentalist group operating throughout East Africa.
NIGERIA – Founding of Boko Haram or the Islamic State in West Africa or Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid Da’wah wa’l-Jihad (“Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad”) (ISWA/ISWAP). Jihadist militant organization based in Northeastern Nigeria. Founded by Mohammed Yusuf. Also operates in Chad, Niger, and Northern Cameroon.


PAKISTAN – Founding of Jondullah or Jundullah (“Soldiers of God”). Militant group associated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Commanded by militant Hakimullah Mehsud, the Emir of TTP. Spokesperson is Ahmed Marwat.
MOROCCO — ASAM responsible for Casablanca bombings, in which 12 suicide bombers killed 33 people and injured more than 100. GICM also linked to the bombings.
NIGERIA – ISWA/ISWAP began operations.


PHILIPPINES – ASG perpetrated the worst terrorist attack in Philippines’ history: the bombing of Superferry 14, which killed 116 people.
LEBANON/SYRIA/GAZA STRIP/QATAR/AFGHANISTAN – JAS began perpetrating several terrorist attacks in various countries, primarily Lebanon and Qatar.
IRAQ/SYRIA – Founding of ISIS.
IRAQ – JTJ ceased operations.
SPAIN/MOROCCO – GICM linked to the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 2000.


INDIA – Founding of Indian Mujahideen (IM). Terrorist group led by Abdul Subhan Qureshi.
UZBEKISTAN – IJG changed its name to the Islamic Jihad Union or Ittihad al-Jihad al-Islami or the Islamic Jihad Group (IJU).
GAZA STRIP/EGYPT (SINAI PENINSULA) – Founding of Jaish al-Islam or the Tawhid and Jihad Brigades or the Army of Islam or Jaysh al-Islam (JAI). Name used by the Doghmush Hamula (“clan”) for their Islamic militant activities. Located in the Tzabra neighborhood in the center of the Gaza Strip (bordered by Israel and Egypt). The US and UAE have designated JAI a terrorist organization.
SYRIA – JAS began fighting the Syrian army in Syria.


IRAQ – Al-Zarqawi killed by airstrike. AQ in Iraq named a new leader, Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir,spc a pseudonym. USG identified him as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian militant based in Baghdad.
SOMALIA/ERITREA – Founding of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia – Union of Islamic Courts (ARS/UIC). Islamist organization based in the Horn of Africa.


CHECHNYA, RUSSIA — ChRI/CRI ceased operations.
CHECHNYA, RUSSIA – Founding of Imarat Kavkaz (pronounced the same in Russian and Chechen but spelled differently) or Caucasus Emirate or the Caucasian Emirate (IK). (Also discussed in previous TR articles in this series). Militant Jihadist organization active in the Southwestern region of the Russian Federation. Intent is to expel the Russian presence from the North Caucasus and establish an independent Islamic emirate in the region. IK also refers to the state the group seeks to establish.
GAZA STRIP – Founding of Jaish al-Ummah (JaU).
SOMALIA/ERITREA – ARS/UIC became operational when members met with Somali opposition leaders in Asmara (capital of Eritrea) and united to oppose Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its Ethiopian allies.
LIBYA – IMM ceased operations.
ALGERIA — GSPC became al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or Tanzim al-Qa’idah fi Bilad al-Maghrib al-Islam) (AQIM).


INDONESIA – Founding of Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid or Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT). Splinter cell of JI. Formed by Abu Bakar Baasyir in Solo, Java, Indonesia. Has bases across Indonesia, including Aceh and Central Sulawesi. The UN and the US have designated JAT a terrorist organization. Members include JI members who perpetrated the Bali bombings.
SAUDI ARABIA – AQAP ceased operations.
YEMEN – Founding of AQ in the Arabian Peninsula. Different organization than AQAP in Saudi Arabia.


INDONESIA – Founding of AQ in Aceh or Tanzim al Qa’ida Indonesia for Serambi Makkah (AQA).
LEBANON – Founding of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades or the Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions.
SAUDI ARABIA – Founding of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades or the Yusuf al-Uyayri Battalions or AQ in Lebanon (different from the organization with the same name operating in Lebanon and, confusingly, this Saudi group is AQ’s branch in Lebanon). Sunni Islamist militant group. Named after Sheikh Abudullah Azzam. Founded by Saudi Sale Al-Qaraawi. Local network in various countries, mainly Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon.
SOMALIA/ERITREA – After a peace agreement, the TFG parliament formally incorporated ARS members, and ARS/UIC ceased operations.
SOMALIA – Founding of Hizbul al Islam or Hizbul Islam (“Islamic Party”) or Hizbul Islaami or Hisbi Islam or Hezb-ul-Islam (HI). Somali Islamist insurgent group. Formed when four Islamist groups (Hassan Aweys’ ARS-A, Jabhatul Islamiya (“Islamic Front”), Hassan Abdulla Hersi al Turki’s Mu’askar Ras Kamboni or the Ras Kamboni Brigade, and Muaskar Anole (the Harti clan’s militia)) merged to fight the new Somali government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
NIGERIA — Abubakar Shekau began to lead ISWA/ISWAP. Group began killing tens of thousands and displacing more than 2 million from their homes.


PHILIPPINES – Founding of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters or the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFF or BIFM). Islamist militant organization based in Mindanao. Breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front founded by Ameril Umbra Kato. Smaller player in the overall Moro insurgency and mostly active in Maguindanao and other places in central Mindanao.
INDIA – The Government of India declared IM a terrorist organization and banned it. Shortly thereafter, New Zealand also declared it a terrorist organization.
TAJIKISTAN – Founding of Jamaat Ansarullah (JA).
IRAQ/IRAN – Capture and execution of Abdul Malik Rigi, leader of the Sunni militant group Jundallah (not to be confused with the group in Pakistan with the same name). Jundallah weakened as a result.
IRAQ –AQ in Iraq leader Al-Muhajir/Al-Masri and ISI leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi killed during a military operation on their safehouse.
SOMALIA – HI ceased operations.
TUNISIA/WESTERN EUROPE – TCG ceased operations.


INDONESIA – AQA ceased operations.
SYRIA – Founding of Jabhat al-Nusrah (ANF) (refer to earlier TR articles in this series for additional information). Linked to AQ.
SYRIA – Founding of Liwa al-Islam (“Brigade of Islam”) or Jaysh al-Islam (“Army of Islam”). Coalition of Islamist and Salafist units involved in the Syrian Civil War. Primary base of operations is the Damascus area, particularly the city of Douma and the region of Eastern Ghouta. Largest rebel faction in the area.
SYRIA – Founding of the Suqour al-Sham Brigade (“Hawks of the Levant Brigades”) or the Sham Falcons Brigades (SSB). Armed rebel organization formed by Ahmed Abu Issa early in the Syrian Civil War to fight against the Syrian government. Former unit of the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front and member of the Islamic Front.
GAZA STRIP, SINAI PENINSULA, EGYPT – Founding of the Mujahideen Shura Council or the Mujahideen Shura Councel in the Environs of Jerusalem or the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem or Majlis Shura Al-Mujahideen or Magles Shoura al-Mujahdeen (MSC). (Also discussed in previous TR articles in this series). Armed Salafi jihadist group linked to AQ. Formed by Salafist Islamist Hisham Al-Saedni aka Abu al Walid al Maqdisi to coordinate the activities of the Salafi jihadist groups operating in Gaza, before the Egyptian Revolution. Has carried out attacks against civilians. Describes violence against Jews as a religious obligation that brings its perpetrators closer to God.
EGYPT – Following the Egyptian Revolution, many imprisoned members of Egypt’s Jihadist movements were released from prison. In addition, there was an easing of restraints on free speech. These developments allowed radical SJ followers to resume their activities, garner support, and recruit followers.
EGYPT – Founding of the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN).
SINAI PENINSULA, EGYPT – Founding of Al Takfir wal al-Hijrah.
SINAI PENINSULA, EGYPT – Founding of Jamaat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.
TUNISIA/WESTERN EUROPE – TCG ceased operations.
TUNISIA – Founding of Ansar al-Sharia – Tunisia or Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (“Supporters of Islamic Law in Tunisia”). Radical Islamist group. Has approximately 1000 active members. Listed as a terrorist group by the UN, the US, the UK, the UAE, and the Tunisian government.
LIBYA – Founding of Ansar al-Sharia – Libya (“Supporters of Islamic Law”) (ASL). Salafist Islamist militia group that came into being during the Libya Civil War. Led by its “Amir” Muhammad al-Zahawi. Advocates the implementation of strict Sharia law.
LIBYA – LIFG militants participated in the Libyan Civil War under the name the Libyan Islamic Movement or al-Harakat al-Islamiya al-Libiya and also as members of the Libya Shield Force (LSF). LIFG member Abd al-Muhsin al-Libi is a key commander in LSF.
MALI – Founding of Harakat Ansar al-Din or Ansar Dine or Ansar ad-Dine or Ancar Deen (“helpers of the Islamic religion” or “defenders of the faith”) or Ansar al-Din (AAD). Militant Islamist group led by AQIM leader Iyad Ag Ghaly. Sought to impose strict Sharia law across Mali.
MALI – Founding of the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa or the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa or the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa or Jama’at at-tawhid wal-jihad fi gharb afriqqiya or the Mouvement pour l’unicite et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO or MUJWA). Founded by Ahmed Ould Amer aka Ahmed al-Tilemsi. Militant Islamist organization. Broke off from AQIM with the intended goal of spreading jihad across a larger section of West Africa. Operations largely limited to Southern Algeria and Northern Mali.


EGYPT – Founding of Ansar al-Sharia – Egypt or al-Taliah al-Salafiyah al-Mujahediyah Ansar al-Sharia (“Fighting Salafist Vanguard Partisans of Islamic Law”) (ASE). Radical Islamist group.
GAZA STRIP, SINAI PENINSULA, EGYPT – Founding of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis or Ansar Jerusalem (“Supporters of Jerusalem”) or Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (“Supporters of the Holy House”) (ABM). Jihadist extremist militant group. Began operating in the Sinai Peninsula, focusing its efforts on Israel and the gas pipeline to Jordan.
SYRIA – Founding of Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya or Harakat ahraru s-sam al-islamiyah (“Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant”) or Ahrar al-Sham (HAS). Coalition of multiple Islamist and Salafist units that coalesced into a single brigade and later a division to fight in the Syrian Civil War against the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad. HAS is led by Hassan Aboud.
SYRIA – Founding of Liwa al-Tawhid (“Brigade of Oneness”) or the al-Tawhid Brigade. Named after Tawhid (“oneness of God”) but often mistranslated as Unity Brigade. Armed Islamist insurgent group involved in the Syrian Civil War. Backed by Qatar. One of the biggest groups in Northern Syria, dominating much of the insurgency around Aleppo.
SYRIA – SSB began coordinating with HAS and ANF.
LIBYA – ASL became operational.
SOMALIA – AS pledged allegiance to AQ. Soon after, some of the group’s leaders quarreled with AQ over the union, and AS lost ground.
MALI – Founding of Ansar al-Sharia – Mali (“Partisans of Islamic Law”) (ASM). Radical Islamist group that operates in the Azawad region. Following the Azawad insurgency at this time, the Northern region of Mali achieved de facto independence from the central government. The region was taken over by a number of Islamist groups, including AAD, MUJAO, and AQIM. A group of Malian Islamists in the city of Gao announced the creation of ASM, using a name similar to other organizations founded around the same time in other Muslim countries (Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, etc.)
MALI/LIBYA/ALGERIA – Founding of Al Mulathamun or Al-Mulathameen. Led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
NIGERIA – Founding of the Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Lands or Jama’atu Ansaril Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan or AQ in the Lands Beyond the Sahel. Islamist jihadist militant organization based in the Northeast. Splinter group of ISWA/ISWAP. More of an international focus of operations than ISWA/ISWAP.


PHILIPPINES – Founding of Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM). Dedicated organization seeking to establish an independent state in Mindanao. Umbrella organization composed of JI, ASG, and members of other armed groups. Led by Afghan-trained cleric Human Abdul Najid.
PAKISTAN – Death of Jondullah commander Hakimullah Mehsud.
IRAN – Founding of Jaish ul-Adl or Jaish al-Adl (“Army of Justice”) (JUA). Sunni insurgent group based in the the Sistan and Baluchestan provinces. Founded by members of Jundullah (the Iranian organization, not the Pakistani one). First major attack shortly after founding. Responsible for several attacks against civilians and military personnel in Iran.
SYRIA – AS had 10,000 to 20,000 fighters by this time, making it the second most powerful unit fighting against al-Assad (the Free Syrian Army was the first).
GAZA STRIP, SINAI PENINSULA, EGYPT – ABM ceased its focus on Israel and the gas pipeline to Jordan. Began a campaign of attacks on Egyptian security forces.
MALI – MUJAO ceased operations.
MALI/LIBYA/ALGERIA – Al-Mulathamun ceased operations.
MALI/LIBYA/ALGERIA – Founding of Al-Murabitun or Al-Mourabitoun (“The Sentinels”) (sometimes spelled the same but pronounced differently) (AM). African militant jihadist organization formed by a merger between MUJAO and Al-Mulathamun. Led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Sought to implement Sharia Law in Mali, Algeria, Southwestern Libya, and Niger.
NIGERIA –AQ in the Lands Beyond the Sahel changed its name to Ansaru.


SYRIA – Death of AS leader Hassan Aboud.
SYRIA – JAS stopped fighting the Syrian army.


UZBEKISTAN/KYRGYZSTAN – IMU leadership publicly pledged allegiance to ISIS and announced that it was part of ISIS’s regional branch.
SYRIA – SSB ceased operations.
LIBYA – Death of ASL leader Muhammad al-Zahawi.


SYRIA – ANF rebranded itself as Tahrir al-Sham, and clashes broke out between SSB and ANF.
MALI – AAD ceased operations.
MALI/LIBYA/ALGERIA – AM ceased operations.
As you can see, there are approximately 44 currently active significant SJ groups operating in an area stretching primarily from Morocco to the Philippines, with a web interrelationships.

Coming up next week, we will conclude our deep dive into SJ by taking a brief look at the ruling strategy of these groups in the places where they have taken over land.

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