I. Jihadist Networks
- Jihadi Salafism:
Jihadi Salafism (also referred to as Salafi Jihadism, Salafism, Salafists, or Salafis), a medieval interpretation of Islam that developed when Arabs were being threatened by Europeans. Jihadi Salafism represents a minority and frequently internally condemned interpretation of Islam, but it is a distinct theological strain of Sunni Islam supported by a global network of scholars, websites, media outlets, and social networks. Bunzel says it is deeply rooted in a theology of militancy. The Muslim Brotherhood champions one school. It formed in Egypt to oppose European imperial rule, to purify religion through education and social service, and to seek the restoration of the caliphate at some distant point in history. A more violent school, represented by ISIS and al Qaeda, seeks to purify Islam and rid Muslim lands of Western influence. ISIS embraces a more extreme intolerant version of Salafism seeking to purge the religion of what it believes are un-Islamic practices, eradicating Shi’ites, and waging offensive wars. Salafis see themselves as the only “true” Muslims, and they have assumed the authority to denounce fellow Muslims “heretics” if they disagree with Jihadi Salafi theology. William McCants (2014a) adds that Jihadi Salafism includes an apocalyptic interpretation of Islam that believes Salafis are called to usher in the final days of creation.
- Muslim Brotherhood:
An organization founded by Hassan al Banna in 1928 to recapture the spirit and religious purity of the period of Mohammed and the four Rightly Guided caliphs. The Brotherhood seeks to create a single Muslim nation through education and religious reform. A militant wing founded by Sayyid Qutb sought the same objective through violence. Hamas, a group that defines itself as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has rejected the multinational approach in favor of creating a Muslim Palestine.
- Al Qaeda:
Al Qaeda from Inception to 9/11 Al Qaeda’s origins can be traced to the Cold War. From 1945 until 1991, the United States and former Soviet Union fought one another with surrogates to avoid a direct superpower nuclear confrontation. Islamic radicals hated Communists for their atheism, and this drew the attention of Western intelligence agencies. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France began using radicals against the Soviets, and mod- ern jihadist power grew with Western support. Western efforts with radicals surged in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to bolster a failing Communist regime. The United States called on Cold War allies throughout the Islamic world to support Afghan mujahedeen who resisted the Soviets. Working with Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), Saudi Arabia, and Islamic charities, the United States funneled weapons and material to the mujahedeen. Several Muslim governments also used the war as an excuse to get rid of their own radicals. They sent local militants to join one of the many mujahedeen groups and ridded themselves of sources of domestic unrest. The Afghans had a place for a wide variety of misfits. The mujahedeen were not politically united, but they had two things in common. Most were deeply religious, and they fought the Soviets with fanatical zeal. The Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, and to the mujahedeen, this symbolized a great victory for God over Satan. The United States and several Western powers turned their attention elsewhere, but many of the Jihadi Salafists mujahedeen thought it was time to carry the war to their other enemies, “heretical” Muslim governments, the West, and Israel. As foreign jihadis returned home, they carried the seeds of a new international terrorist network.
Osama bin Laden was the son of Mohammed bin Laden, a wealthy construction executive who worked closely with the Saudi royal family. The elder bin Laden divorced Osama’s mother, but he continued to provide for the family. Because of his father’s connections, bin Laden was raised in the Saudi royal court, and his tutor, Mohammed Qutb, was the brother of the Egyptian radical Sayyid Qutb. Bin Laden was influenced by Sayyid Qutb’s thoughts. Inspired by the mujahedeen of Afghanistan, bin Laden dropped out of college to join the Soviet–Afghan War. At first, he lent his support to the mujahedeen, but he later formed his own guerrilla unit (L. Wright, 2006, pp. 60–83). While in Afghanistan, bin Laden fell under the influence of Abdullah Azzam (1941–1989), a doctor of Islamic law. Azzam was a Palestinian scholar who was also influenced by Qutb’s writings. He came to believe that a purified form of Islam was the answer to questions of poverty and the loss of political power. According to Azzam, the realm of Islam had been dominated by foreign powers for too long. It was time for all Muslims to rise up and strike Satan. He saw the Soviet–Afghan War as just the beginning of a holy war against all things foreign to Islam. At first, bin Laden found the theology of Azzam to his liking and the answer to his prayers for a path to holy war. The two men created al Qaeda to serve as a future headquarters for jihad.
In April 2013, ISI entered the Syrian civil war. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi merged al Nusra and ISI into a new group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). Neither Jawlani nor Zawahiri were pleased. No longer soft-pedaling his al Qaeda core connections, Jawlani publicly swore allegiance to Zawahiri. Cafarella (2015) adds that one al Nusra commander said that they did not want to do it, but Baghdadi forced their hand. Stern and Berger say that Zawahiri sent a private letter to Baghdadi nullifying his announcement, and Baghdadi announced that he was ignoring it. ISIS would fight in Iraq and Syria. Baghadi unleashed his storm of killing in Syria, and he was soon fighting Syrian military forces, secular rebels, Hamas, Hezbollah, jihadist groups, and al Nusra. ISIS and the Caliphate Cole Bunzel (2014) says that ISIS was not an isolated entity separate from Islam. While most Muslims, including a large number of Jihadi Salafists, denounced it, ISIS had its own scholars and its own traditions stretching back to ibn Taymiyya. It controlled some of the best and most sophisticated media outlets among the Jihadist Salafi movement, and it did something that al Qaeda core failed to do. It held and governed territory. It managed oil production, ran its own banking system, operated schools and health care facilities, and established a government. In June 2014, the second most important city in Iraq, Mosul, fell to ISIS fighters. On June 29, 2014, the group’s spokesperson proclaimed that ISIS had restored the caliphate and that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was the new caliph. From this point on, the spokesperson said, ISIS would simply be known as the Islamic State. Mainstream Muslims gave it the derogatory Arabic name, Daesh, but Jihadi Salafism had a home. Die-hard Salafists, young zealous converts, kids searching for adventure, and hundreds of Western men and women traveled to ISIS territory to join the caliphate. In their minds, the historic Islamic community had been restored.