By: AbdulElah Hider Shyea
A note on the article
AbdulElah Hidar Shaea wrote this article in June 2010. His kidnapping one-month later by Yemeni security forces prevented publication. On the orders of President Barak Obama, Shaea was jailed for three years and was released on July 2013. He lives now under house arrest and cannot travel outside his native city, the capital Sanaa.
This is my reading as a journalist who has followed the so-called “war on terror.” It is based on my study of the parties involved in this war on the basis of their literature and my extensive reporting on the issue.
It should be noted that this analysis is restricted in its scope. It looks exclusively at the Movement of al-Tawhid wal Jihad (al-Qaeda) and not at the international political or diplomatic side of the “war on terror.” Of course, many local and international sides of this war remain open for further analysis and illustration. I rely on data and statistics collected from a hundred military operations that Islamic groups have assumed responsibility for and which have taken place across the globe.
In 2006, Rand Corporation issued a study in two parts entitled “Beyond al-Qaeda,” which tried to illustrate the difference between global Jihad groups and local resistance groups in terms of their respective motivations, aims, and geographical areas of operation. The study found that there are two types of Jihad, each one having different characteristics and subdivisions. They called one type “local or nationalist Jihad groups” and the second “The Global Jihad Movement.”
I will not bother the reader with the details of each of these two groups, which are familiar to observers and analysts. I will focus, instead, on the study’s conclusion which urged “the use of local Jihad groups to fight the Global Jihad Movement” as a strategy to win the “war on terror.” It became evident, a year later, that this strategy was put into practice in Iraq (with the creation of the Sahwas and the splits within the resistance), in Palestine (with Hamas killing leaders of Jaysh al-Islam and Jund Ansar Allah – both share the ideology of al-Qaeda), and in Pakistan-Afghanistan with the appearance of either new groups or “moderates” within the Taleban.
Al-Qaeda – the main formation in al-Tawhid wal Jihad Movement – has also provided through its leaders and strategists its own analysis and explanation of this phenomenon. The battle within the Islamic movement, they say, is leaving “two distinct groups: one group with a faith devoid of hypocrisy and another group with a hypocrisy devoid of faith.”
Jihadi leaders believed that this strategy will make al-Qaeda a phenomenon of the past, as a result of increased activity, increased variety of military operations, the unification of various sections of the Muslim Ummah, and indeed this is what seems to be happening on the ground.
In a way, the war has entered a “beyond-al-Qaeda” phase when al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) began what it called the “individual Jihad” phase or “lone-wolf” terrorism, when Major Nidal Hassan killed American military personnel in Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009.
Essentially, the post-al-Qaeda phase involves two major transformations. It means, first, the spread of principles, aims and methods that have so far been under the monopoly of al-Qaeda, so much so that individuals and groups who have no connection to the movement, like Nidal Hassan, can now adopt these goals and principles and make use of these tactics and strategies.
Second, the setbacks that the international coalition faced in the “war on terror” means that many other people, who could not join al-Qaeda because of the aggressive security clampdown and the excesses of the international coalition, can now easily join local groups with global Islamic revival agendas. US intelligence described this process in its report projecting its conception of the world in 2020 saying that “the world will see the rise of radical Islamic forces, which will govern through a global Islamic system known as the Islamic Caliphate.”
Data compiled for a period of a year and a half (2009-10) from operations by al-Tawhid wal Jihad movement shows that 97% of these operations were not the work of al-Qaeda, but belong rather to the post-al-Qaeda phase. Some of the examples that deserve attention include:
1. The Islamic State of Iraq is a coalition of more than 18-armed groups in Iraq and some tribal councils. In Iraq, al-Qaeda has effectively dissolved itself under the Islamic State in terms of operations, organization and media – all indicate that we are dealing with a post-al-Qaeda phase.
2. Major Nidal Hassan is a concrete example of the post-al-Qaeda phase
3. The new explosive materials developed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which managed to go through airport security systems undetected, also belong to a post-al-Qaeda phase. Indeed it has allowed al-Qaeda to go beyond the organization phase into a new phase where it exports ideas and weapons and acts as a host for those who offer their services like Farouq Abd al-Mottaleb, the son of the Nigerian billionaire who came looking for al-Qaeda to be sent on an operation.
4. Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen in Somalia does not belong to al-Qaeda organizationally and it operates in a geographical area far bigger than al-Qaeda’s. Mainstream Islamic world looks at them less harshly than they look at al-Qaeda, which has been ostracized from the mainstream.
5. Afghan and Pakistani Taleban, especially the latter, have expanded their operations outside Pakistan when they bombed the Passport and Immigration Office and attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, both in New York City.
The post-al-Qaeda phase is the phenomenon that has reached the United States nine years after al-Qaeda reached it. Omar al-Farouq’s passenger jet and Obama’s strategy both operate in a post al-Qaeda world.
- Why the Post al-Qaeda Phase?
Al-Qaeda’s strategic and tactical goals are not those of an organization or a group as indicated both in its literature and the evolution of its operations. Their aim is to achieve “peace and justice in the world,” which is something that almost all currents of the Islamic Ummah share. It is also a goal that most non-Muslims would agree on, for the simple reason that the civilization of the West (especially the United States’) has spread destruction and chaos across the planet. Neither the child in Texas can enjoy clean air to breath nor the child in Gaza is safe from white phosphorous manufactured in the United States. America and the West are seen, therefore, as a civilization of “brains” and not of the “intellect.” The difference is that the brain is dominated by instincts of power and greed rather than by the human soul, which governs and guides the intellect. Al-Qaeda leaders refer to this phenomenon using the Qu’ranic expression: “They are only like cattle;- nay, they are worse.” (al-Furqan, 44). This is why Usama Bin Laden focused on global warming and the financial crisis in his 2008 speech, using statistics and expert opinions, to stress to the West that their policies will not provide them safety, security and social stability. Bin Laden also frequently advised the West to read the books of their own scholars (like Noam Chomsky, William Bloom and others), because they confirm what al-Qaeda says in this regard. al-Qaeda leaders have in this manner attempted to rally support around what was exclusively the concern of “The Global Front for the Fight against the Jews and the Crusaders,” or “al-Tawhid wal Jihad Brigades” or “Qaedat al-Jihad.”
- The Post al-Qaeda Phase
The year of 2009 witnessed the release of a fatwa by over a hundred Muslim scholars that contained ideas and descriptions that only a small organization called al-Qaeda used to repeat.
The text of the 2009 fatwa issued in the aftermath of the Israeli war on Gaza says: “the regimes that are complicit with the aggression against Gaza are almost apostates, and it is a consensus (in Islamic law) that those who support the kuffar’s aggression against the Muslims are apostates.” The reference was obviously to the Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi regimes, which seemed to be complicit with the Israeli aggression on Gaza.
This was the first time that fatwas came from outside al-Qaeda containing rulings of “kuffr and apostasy” of local regimes because of their policies. Until then, it was only al-Qaeda that measured those policies in light of Shari’ah law. This is why al-Qaeda expressed an interest in this fatwa and, through its general mufti Abu Yahya al-Libi, issued an extensive explanation of the fatwa and praised it.
The hundred scholars who signed on the fatwa belong to a post al-Qaeda phase because none of them belongs to al-Qaeda, and though most of them are not mainstream media figures, they are expert scholars whose rulings are respected and obeyed by Muslims.
In January 2010, another 172 scholars, this time from Yemen, issued another fatwa repeating some of the same rulings of the 2009 fatwa, again showing increasing consensus on concepts and rulings that until then had been used exclusively by al-Qaeda. Foremost among those rulings is the “apostasy of the regimes” on the basis of al-wala’e wal-Bara’e (allegiance and disassociation principle). The regimes continue to speak rather of “friendship and partnership” with America and the West.
In their fatwa, Yemeni scholars stipulated that Jihad be declared if there is a foreign invasion in Yemen or security, military or intelligence interference. The fatwa did not say that that was happening, but tribes across Yemen confirm they have witnessed security, military and intelligence interference and demand that the fatwa be enacted. Obviously, this is what al-Qaeda had been demanding – that the fatwas issued in this respect be put into practice.
The al-Qaeda organization will disappear from the battlefield across the world in the weeks, months and years to come, because large sections of the Ummah will join this project, both as individuals and as groups. Evidently, this will constitute a challenge to al-Tawhid wal-Jihad Movement because it will have to pass the banner to the Ummah without trying to monopolize the project.
The label al-Qaeda has been used to fight the “Islamic project”, and the organization, especially its regional branches, has contributed in minimizing the battle and realizing a strategic goal of the United States and the West – to portray the battle as one between the United States and al-Qaeda and ensure that large sections of the Muslims remain on the side.
The post-al-Qaeda phase involves the return of the Islamic Ummah to square one to take the place of al-Qaeda, and this is what seems evident from the statistics of the operations across the world in the year 2009 and the middle of 2010.