Sporadic observations on the Syrian Civil War

Month: February, 2014

My Summary of and Thoughts on Muhaysini’s Latest Speech

Although over 3000 words in length, Muhaysini’s speech can be summarised in a few words. It is a passionate plea directed first at Baghdadi – whom he still calls his ‘brother’ – to accept arbitration by a neutral court; and second at Baghdadi’s soldiers to consider why almost every Jihadi authority has taken the side of Baghdadi’s enemies in the dispute. An implicit call for them to break rank and join other Jihadi groups whom ‘people love’[1] and who are practising a truer version of Jihad. He even gives his own suggestions – Jabhat an-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham.

Muhaysini opens his speech by listing his own credentials. He comes from a rich family, is married and has a family and has left all that behind in service of the true path to God. His current initiative, and the ones that have preceded it, were never meant for personal gain or to favour one group over another, but to establish what is right and make it prevail over falsehood. He asks his readers to suspend their prejudices, and weigh his argument by its adherence to Sharia laws alone.

He recalls how his first initiative – the Islamic Court Initiative – to resolve some disputes between Ahrar ash-Sham and Jabhat an-Nusra, on the one hand, and ISIS on the other, came to a miserable failure because of ISIS’ recalcitrance. When two ISIS members mistook Ahrar member Muhammad Fares Marroush for a Shiite, decapitated him and displayed his head in public; Muhaysini offered to mediate but ISIS refused all attempts to resolve the matter.[2] ISIS, however, Muhaysini reports had no problem with him being a mediator when the matter concerned was the lost life of one of their soldiers on the hands of some other faction. ‘Why do they accept me as a judge when they foresee a ruling in their favour, and refuse me when they do not?’, Muhaysini asks.

By the evidence of the speech, Muhaysini emerges as a first-tier “war correspondent” – risking his life to go to conflict zones to reach his own, firs-hand conclusions about what had happened. ‘I had intended’, Muhaysini says, ‘to make my own judgements based on what I saw and heard’.[3] When the intra-rebel fighting broke out, it so happened that he was present in al-Atareb – its epicentre. He went into the town where the local people fired several rounds in his direction, mistaking him for an ISIS member. He inquired about what had happened, and the town people told him: ‘ISIS came in wanting to arrest one of us. We refused and said he can only be arrested by an order from the Islamic court, and so they left. On the following day, we found the dead body of the person ISIS had wanted to arrest’.

Fighting then spread to the “46 Regiment” where several armed opposition brigades were stationed. ISIS went in killing 10 Nusra members and several people from other factions. While hostilities deepened, several factions attempted to prevent back up convoys from reaching the conflict zone, which only led to more escalation.

‘This was not a war against Islam, or against the establishment of an Islamic state’, if it were, Muhaysini tells us, ‘why were not Jabhat an-Nusra fought?’ If this were the case, Jabhat an-Nusra would have been a more appropriate target, since it ‘belongs to al-Qaeda whom the entire world opposes’. This argument appears to be direct at ISIS’ lower ranks, because ISIS’ internal propaganda stresses its own victimhood.[4] A high number of enemies is no ‘proof you are on the right path’. If it were, Muhaysini argues, ‘Qadafi would have been not a tyrant, but a wronged man, since the entire Libyan people were against him’.

Muhaysini continues to list a few other transgressions by ISIS among which were the killing of women and children. He then moves on to talk about his current effort to solve the crisis – the Umma Initiative, which was well received by many Jihadi ideologues and all the parties concerned except ISIS. ISIS had not technically refused but had presented a forbiddingly conditional approval. It had demanded that all parties publicly state where they stand with regard to secularism, democracy and most Middle Eastern regimes.[5] Muhaysini says that although one should always distance himself from these things, they are not valid conditions for accepting arbitration as they are not found in the Quran as such. ‘Should thieves, transgressors, Jews and Christians – if we prevail – present their positions vis-à-vis core Islamic theology before arbitration?’. It is not that what the two conditions demand is reprehensible, far from it, but that they are presented as conditions for accepting arbitration. ISIS has a right to demand this from the prospective judges, since their positions will obviously affect their judgments, but not from the other parties.

According to Muhaysini, ISIS had not made its own position clear about the other armed factions in Syria. ‘I found considerable variation among my brothers in ISIS with where they stood regarding the other factions’. Does ISIS think they are Muslims or Infidels? ISIS had also employed fear tactics and propaganda to encourage their members to fight the other factions. They claimed that the wives of many foreign fighters had been raped. ISIS had also sent suicide bombers to areas with civilian presence: in Darkoush where they had killed a man and wounded four children; in Kafr Naha where it had killed one child; and in Kafr Joum where the only casualty was the bomber himself. It had also sent suicide bombers to Ahrar ash-Sham and Liwa al-Tawheed centres.

Al-Muhaysini is worried that after this speech, the ISIS propaganda machine might dig up some of his old tweets and use them to assail his character. At one point he says ‘I did not compose them, and I oppose everything that was in them’. At another: ‘Some of them I have written, but I now recant what I said in them’.[6] Such an attack is to be expected, as bigger Jihadi figures and theologians have been attacked by ISIS for their positions. ‘I have never witnessed or seen an Islamic project so assailed and opposed as that of ISIS’. Muhaysini is careful not to extend his argument to ISIS’ operations in Iraq as he has not been there. ‘Everyone has seen how many enemies of God they had killed in Iraq, how they have brought the Americans and Rafidah [Shiites] to their knees, and how they have liberated Muslim prisoners’, he proclaims praising ISIS forces in Iraq.

If his ‘brother’ – Baghdadi – does not agree to sit in a court with mutually agreed on judges, he should go back to Iraq so that Muslim blood can be ‘spared’. Muhaysini concludes by asking the soldiers of ISIS – indirectly – to join Jabhat an-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham or other Islamic factions ‘whom people love’.

Having become the sole power in most of Deir az-Zour, all of Raqqa and most of Eastern Aleppo – a stronger positions than the one it was in before the fighting began – ISIS has now started its attempt to regain some territory in Aleppo.[7] The infighting does not appear to have cost ISIS much militarily, but it has had a considerable effect on its standing in the Jihadi community.[8] Its biggest worry now is that this virtual consensus among Jihadi theologians opposing its actions could have a considerable effect on prospective donors. ‘For a group dependent on foreign fighters and Islamist fundraisers, this would be no trivial matter’, as Aron Lund notes.[9] This can serve as a potential reason to explain ISIS’ recent fight with Jabhat an-Nusra over an oil field in Deir az-Zour.[10]

[1] http://mhesne.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=172 all subsequent quotes from Muhaysini are from this link.

[2] http://halabnews.com/news/42816 (WARNING: Graphic content).

[3] See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rPke7ELaCo&list=UUK7tYDmsIQwbqNUtv3egPIw&feature=c4-overview where Muhaysini is seen at ‘ground zero’ of suicide bombing. Thanks to @NoahBonsey for posting the link.

[4] ISIS first public response to the infighting, by its second-in-command al-Adnani, was titled ‘God is with You, O Wronged State’. See: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug4oIRbRUKA

[6] I apologize but I did not have the stamina to go through his old tweets. Perhaps someone else can explain what they were about.

[7] Two ISIS suicide bombers have attacked the infantry school in Aleppo – a Liwa al-Tawheed (Islamic Front) stronghold. See https://twitter.com/search?q=%23%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A9_%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%A9&src=hash

[8] After Muhaysini published his speech a hashtag was created on twitter that lists claims of people defecting from ISIS. https://twitter.com/search?q=%23%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF_%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%86_%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%B3%D9%86%D9%8A&src=hash


Nusra Statement about Second Hirmel Attack in Lebanon

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Statement #6 from Jabhat an-Nusra in Lebanon

Battle Series – Kasaman li-Natha’r (we pledge vengeance)

A Second Martyrdom Operation on an Iran Party [Hizbullah] Stronghold in Hirmel

The Highest [a reference to God] says ‘Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory’ [Quran 22:39].

With the Party of Iran [Hizbullah] continuing its crimes against our wronged people in our beloved Levant, and its insistence on sending more and more of its mercenaries to kill the Syrian people, our response has been to attempt to put a stop to its massacres by carrying out similar operation in its strongholds, so as to force it to re-evaluate its stances.

We call on the Sunnah of Lebanon to rise up against this unjust group. Do not be deceived by how secure and powerful it appears to be – this is merely a façade and it is much weaker than it seems. Our ability to strike at the same target twice is proof of how weak and internally fragile it really is.

‘And Allah hath full power and control over His affairs; but most among mankind know it not’ [Quran 12:21].

We are ready to sacrifice ourselves in following Sharia.


Original Here: https://twitter.com/jabhalb/statuses/429697816852590592

On Sulayman al-Alwan’s Latest Speech about the Syrian Civil War

المحاور: شيخنا، ما تعليقكم على الهجمة الشرسة الأخيرة على المجاهدين وخاصة في الشام وما نصيحتكم للمشايخ وطلبة العلم ولعامة المجاهدين وللجماعات الجهادية هناك؟

العلوان: النصر من عند الله وحده، لا تمنعه قلة عدد ولا عُدَد ولا مخططات أهل المكر والخيانة. وقد بدأت مسيرات أهل الشقاء والبغاء والعار في الطعن في أولياء الله في قلب الإسلام اليوم وازدرائهم وخذلانهم وبهتهم. وقد افتضح قوم منهم بسرقة أموال الدعم والتبرعات للمجاهدين، وقوم بالتهييج على قتل المجاهدين، وقوم بتمويل الجماعات المنادية بالديموقراطية، وقوم بالتنظير للتفرقة، وقوم للعمالة للطغاة وصنائع الغرب: فيمكرون ويمكر الله والله خير الماكرين ولا يحيط المكر السيء إلا بأهله. ولن يفلح هؤلاء القوم وسيكونون وقود فتنتهم. وأناشد المتورطين بعمالة أو صحوات أو تبديع بغير حق وسط المخالفين بالغلو ومذهب الخوارج أو قتل المسلمين وأو تحريض على ذلك بالتوبة إلى الله والاعتذار للمسلمين عن هذه الخيانات والقاذورات، ومن لم يتب منهم فقد تثبت تورطه في هذه الجرائم تحققت بليته وجريرته. فإني أرى على رجال الصدق ضرورة كشف العملاء والمفسدين والقيام على مشروعهم التخريبي وصد حملات العدوان والنميمية. فهذا جهاد من أعظم أنواع الجهاد والحذر من الوثوق بهم أو دعمهم وقد تكشفت الحقائق: فأموال المسلمين التي تكون عن طريقهم تذهب لجهات مشبوهة ومشكوك في أمرها وقد تكون لقتال الموحدين تحت مسمى قتال الغلاة والمصلحة ودرء المفسدة. وأدعو أهل العلم والمشايخ إلى الوقوف في صفوف المجاهدين ومناصرتهم وتوجيههم وأن تكون أحكامهم  على أهل الثغور عن معرفة وبصيرة بالواقع، وتواصل مع قياداتهم، لا عن سماع من خصومهم والجاهلين بهم. وإن أهل الثغور لفضلهم وعظيم منزلتهم وكبير فعالهم من أولى الناس بعدلكم وتثبتكم في المنقول عنهم ولا سيّما أن القوى العالمية قد أجمعت على حربهم وتشويه صورتهم وسمعتهم وتلفيق التهم عليهم. وأدعو الكتائب المقاتلة للتوحد على الكتاب والسنة ومفاصلة الدعوات الجاهلية من علمانية وديموقراطية. وقد قال تعالى: “واعتصموا بحبل الله جميعاً ولا تفرقوا” واتحاد الفصائل الجهادية قوة واليوم أحوج ما يكونون إلى ذلك. وإذا لم تتوحد صفوفهم فلتتوحد كلمتهم حتى لا يكونوا لقمة سائغة لأعداء الإسلام. والمسلمون إذا لم يجمعهم الحق شعّبهم الباطل، والخيط الرقيق إذا انضم إليه مثله أصبح حبلاً متيناً.

Interviewer: Shaikh, what is your comment on the recent vicious attack on the mujahideen especially in the Levant? And what is your advice to other sheikhs and scholars, and to the general populace of the mujahideen?

Alwan: Victory is ultimately decided by Allah, and is prevented by neither a scarcity of fighters nor by a lack of arms, nor by the plans of cunning and treacherous agents. The cursed agents of injustice have started an attack aimed at the heart of Islam and its people, and is carried out by mocking them, letting them down, and making false statements under their name. It has been proven that a faction of those agents has been stealing support money and donations intended for the mujahideen. Another factions has been shown to be provoking the public to kill the mujahideen; a third to be supporting groups calling for democracy; a fourth to be justifying dissent and atomisation; and a fourth to be clients of tyrants and the West. ‘But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners’ [Quran 8:30]. ‘[T]he evil plot does not encompass except its own people’ [Quran 35:43]. Those agents will not prevail and will become fuel for the fire of fitna [sedition] they are trying to start.

I implore those who have worked as agents; people implicated in the Sahwa [Awakening] movement; and those involved in initiating or perpetuating heretic novelties; all of whom are found among those extremist dissenters who follow the school of Khawarij[1] or who actually kill Muslims or encourage the same; to repent to Allah and apologise to the Muslim community for their treachery and for that filth. The guilt of those who refuse to repent will become apparent, and they will suffer the consequences.  I think that people who are honest should work to reveal those agents and corruptors and should stop their destructive project and stand against the scandalous campaigns of aggression. This is one of the highest forms of Jihad. It should also involve great care in whether to trust them or not or whether to support them or not. New facts have emerged: funds that pass through them reach questionable parties and might actually be used to fight monotheists [Muslims] under the pretext of fighting extremism and preserving the general interest of the public.

I call on Islamic scholars and sheikhs to take the side of the mujahideen, to support them and direct them. I urge them not to pass judgment and make decisions regarding those who are fighting on the frontlines without first-hand knowledge and without communicating with their leaders. These judgements should not be based on hearsay from their enemies and those who do not know them. The merit, excellence, and great deeds of those who fight on the frontlines is all the more reason to deal with them in a just manner and to check the validity of statements and actions attributed to them, especially considering that all global powers have colluded to fighting them, carrying out a smear campaign, and falsifying accusations against them.

I call on the active brigades to unify under the Quran and Sunnah and to sever themselves from the ignorant calls to secularism and democracy. Allah says: ‘And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided’ [Quran 3:103]. The unification of Jihadi factions results in power and that is badly needed today. If their ranks cannot unite then, at least, let them issue joint statements and allow their discourse to unite so that they do not turn into an easy target for the enemies of Islam. If Muslims do not gather around what is right, they will be divided by falsehood. If a thin fibre is joined by its likes, they turn into a strong rope.


Shaikh Suleiman al-Alwan is a known Saudi Jihadi ideologue who spent 9 years in prison for his active support of militant Jihad but without, apparently, being officially charged with anything. He was released on 5th December 2012[2], only then to be charged, tried and indicted while still being allowed the benefit of an appeal.[3] The main charge against him was ‘money laundering’. In practice, it amounted to his financial support for radical Jihadi groups to the sum of SR (Saudi Riyal) 3 million, SR 600,000 of which were given to Abu Musa’ab Az-Zarqawi head of al-Qaeda in Iraq – a precursor of today’s Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).[4] He was arrested again on 16th December 2013 to serve his newly passed sentence of 15 years, nine of which he had already served.[5]

This makes the dating of the statement transcribed above problematic. It was uploaded to youtube.com on 30th Jan 2014, but the first few seconds of the video show the title ‘al-Alwan Archive’ – implying that it might not be new.[6] Pro-ISIS accounts on social media sites have been circulating this statement for the past few days and have been describing it as Alwan’s comment on the recent intra-rebel fighting in Northern Syria and Muhaysini’s attempt to put an end to it. They call it مبادرة المفاصلة  (Mubadarat al-Mufasala) – the severance initiative, and pit it against Muhaysini’s own initiative.[7] The name is derived from Alwan’s appeal to the rebels to ‘sever themselves from […] ignorant calls to secularism and democracy’.

Although unlikely, it is still possible that Alwan could have made the recording from prison. However, he does not directly mention any faction, nor does he refer to Muhaysini’s initiative. Even more troubling, for those who want to read it as Alawn’s declaration of support for ISIS, is his call to ‘extremist dissenters who follow the school of Khawarij or who actually kill Muslims or encourage the same; to repent to Allah and apologise to the Muslim community’. Among the different propaganda narratives, the word ‘khawarij’ has been used exclusively as a pejorative reference to ISIS. As if to dole out his criticism in equal measure to both sides, Alwan also implores people ‘involved in the Sahwa movement’ to follow the same path of repentance. The Sahwa movement started in Iraq, when various Sunni tribes collaborated with the US army to fight al-Qaeda. The word has been used by ISIS to describe its enemies among the rebels.[8]

If we, however, control for the above mentioned variables, Alwan’s main message, it would emerge, is his worry the effects intra-rebel fighting might have on regional donors to Jihadist movements in Syria. He is indirectly urging prospective donors to be careful whom they fund, lest their money be used to fight ‘monotheists [Muslims] under the pretext of fighting extremism and preserving the general interest of the public’. Apart from being driven out of Western rural Aleppo, and Aleppo itself, ISIS’ fight with other rebel factions has actually resulted in it emerging as the only power on the ground in Ar-Raqqa, Tal-Abiadh, Jarablus, al-Bab and Manbij – i.e. Ar-Raqqah governorate and Eastern rural Aleppo. Their control of Deir Azzour has increased, where they have been winning the support of one local tribe after another.[9] Whereas before they had to share control of the above mentioned locales, now they can apply their interpretation of Sharia there without any checks.

From ISIS perspective, then, the infighting presents not so much a military problem, as much as a PR issue. As Aron Lund notes, with most Jihadi ideologues (including head of al-Qaeda Central: Thawahiri) taking the side of the Islamic Front (IF) and supporting Muhaysini’s initiative, ISIS comes out as the recalcitrant party who is against putting an end to the fitna (civil strife).[10] ‘For a group dependent on foreign fighters and Islamist fundraisers, this [is] no trivial matter’.[11] The split between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ rebels has already made donors less enthusiastic about supporting Assad’s combatants in general.[12] This new, partially intra-‘extremists’ strife could cost them another group of supporters.

To conclude, Alwan’s message is too ambiguous to lend itself to being easily appropriated by either side. His concern, however, over the expected gradually diminishing funding to Jihadists is valid.

[1] A radical, militant and archaic Islamic school.

[4] ibid

[8] It is still possible, but highly unlikely, that Alwan is actually describing ISIS’ enemies as Khawarij. The original Khawarij were chiefly known for their extremism, low threshold for excommunication, and for their refusal to accept repentance – none of which charges can be easily levelled at, or can be found apt to describe the ‘moderate’ rebels who are fighting ISIS.

[11] ibid