How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS



Kosovo ISIL Ridvan Haqifi and Lavdrim Muhaxheri

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.

The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.

Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.

Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.

It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.

 American bombing of Serbian positions in Kosovo in 1999 during the air campaign by NATO. Credit Jerome Delay/Associated Press

After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.

But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.

“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.”

 A portrait of Bill Clinton on a back street in Pristina near Bill Clinton Boulevard. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.

Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.

All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.

The Balkans, Europe’s historical fault line, have yet to heal from the ethnic wars of the 1990s. But they are now infected with a new intolerance, moderate imams and officials in the region warn.

How Kosovo and the very nature of its society was fundamentally recast is a story of a decades-long global ambition by Saudi Arabia to spread its hard-line version of Islam — heavily funded and systematically applied, including with threats and intimidation by followers.

 Idriz Bilalli, an imam in Podujevo, has sought to curb extremists and has received death threats. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The Missionaries Arrive

After the war ended in 1999, Idriz Bilalli, the imam of the central mosque in Podujevo, welcomed any help he could get.

Podujevo, home to about 90,000 people in northeast Kosovo, was a reasonably prosperous town with high schools and small businesses in an area hugged by farmland and forests. It was known for its strong Muslim tradition even in a land where people long wore their religion lightly.

After decades of Communist rule when Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia, men and women mingle freely, schools are coeducational, and girls rarely wear the veil. Still, Serbian paramilitary forces burned down 218 mosques as part of their war against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, who are 95 percent Muslim. Mr. Bilalli needed help to rebuild.

When two imams in their 30s, Fadil Musliu and Fadil Sogojeva, who were studying for master’s degrees in Saudi Arabia, showed up after the war with money to organize summer religion courses, Mr. Bilalli agreed to help.

The imams were just two of some 200 Kosovars who took advantage of scholarships after the war to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Many, like them, returned with missionary zeal.

Soon, under Mr. Musliu’s tutelage, pupils started adopting a rigid manner of prayer, foreign to the moderate Islamic traditions of this part of Europe. Mr. Bilalli recognized the influence, and he grew concerned.

“This is Wahhabism coming into our society,” Mr. Bilalli, 52, said in a recent interview.

Mr. Bilalli trained at the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia in the late 1980s, and as a student he had been warned by a Kosovar professor to guard against the cultural differences of Wahhabism. He understood there was a campaign of proselytizing, pushed by the Saudis.

“The first thing the Wahhabis do is to take members of our congregation, who understand Islam in the traditional Kosovo way that we had for generations, and try to draw them away from this understanding,” he said. “Once they get them away from the traditional congregation, then they start bombarding them with radical thoughts and ideas.”

“The main goal of their activity is to create conflict between people,” he said. “This first creates division, and then hatred, and then it can come to what happened in Arab countries, where war starts because of these conflicting ideas.”

From the outset, the newly arriving clerics sought to overtake the Islamic Community of Kosovo, an organization that for generations has been the custodian of the tolerant form of Islam that was practiced in the region, townspeople and officials say.

Muslims in Kosovo, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, follow the Hanafi school of Islam, traditionally a liberal version that is accepting of other religions.

But all around the country, a new breed of radical preachers was setting up in neighborhood mosques, often newly built with Saudi money.

In some cases, centuries-old buildings were bulldozed, including a historic library in Gjakova and several 400-year-old mosques, as well as shrines, graveyards and Dervish monasteries, all considered idolatrous in Wahhabi teaching.

From their bases, the Saudi-trained imams propagated Wahhabism’s tenets: the supremacy of Sharia law as well as ideas of violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims considered heretics for not following its interpretation of Islam.

The Saudi-sponsored charities often paid salaries and overhead costs, and financed courses in religion, as well as English and computer classes, moderate imams and investigators explained.

But the charitable assistance often had conditions attached. Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil, human rights activists said.

“People were so needy, there was no one who did not join,” recalled Ajnishahe Halimi, a politician who campaigned to have a radical Albanian imam expelled after families complained of abuse.

Gjilan, a town of about 90,000 where a moderate imam was kidnapped and beaten by extremists. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Threats Intensify

Within a few years of the war’s end, the older generation of traditional clerics began to encounter aggression from young Wahhabis.

Paradoxically, some of the most serious tensions built in Gjilan, an eastern Kosovo town of about 90,000, where up to 7,000 American troops were stationed as part of Kosovo’s United Nations-run peacekeeping force at Camp Bondsteel.

“They came in the name of aid,” one moderate imam in Gjilan, Enver Rexhepi, said of the Arab charities. “But they came with a background of different intentions, and that’s where the Islamic religion started splitting here.”

One day in 2004, he recalled, he was threatened by one of the most aggressive young Wahhabis, Zekirja Qazimi, a former madrasa student then in his early 20s.

Inside his mosque, Mr. Rexhepi had long displayed an Albanian flag. Emblazoned with a double-headed eagle, it was a popular symbol of Kosovo’s liberation struggle.

But strict Muslim fundamentalists consider the depiction of any living being as idolatrous. Mr. Qazimi tore the flag down. Mr. Rexhepi put it back.

“It will not go long like this,” Mr. Qazimi told him angrily, Mr. Rexhepi recounted.

Within days, Mr. Rexhepi was abducted and savagely beaten by masked men in woods above Gjilan. He later accused Mr. Qazimi of having been behind the attack, but police investigations went nowhere.

Ten years later, in 2014, after two young Kosovars blew themselves up in suicide bombings in Iraq and Turkey, investigators began an extensive investigation into the sources of radicalism. Mr. Qazimi was arrested hiding in the same woods. On Friday, a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison after he faced charges of inciting hatred and recruiting for a terrorist organization.

Before Mr. Qazimi was arrested, his influence was profound, under what investigators now say was the sway of Egyptian-based extremists and the patronage of Saudi and other gulf Arab sponsors.

By the mid-2000s, Saudi money and Saudi-trained clerics were already exerting influence over the Islamic Community of Kosovo. The leadership quietly condoned the drift toward conservatism, critics of the organization say.

Mr. Qazimi was appointed first to a village mosque, and then to El-Kuddus mosque on the edge of Gjilan. Few could counter him, not even Mustafa Bajrami, his former teacher, who was elected head of the Islamic Community of Gjilan in 2012.

Mr. Bajrami comes from a prominent religious family — his father was the first chief mufti of Yugoslavia during the Communist period. He holds a doctorate in Islamic studies. Yet he remembers pupils began rebelling against him whenever he spoke against Wahhabism.

He soon realized that the students were being taught beliefs that differed from the traditional moderate curriculum by several radical imams in lectures after hours. He banned the use of mosques after official prayer times.

Hostility only grew. He would notice a dismissive gesture in the congregation during his sermons, or someone would curse his wife, or mutter “apostate” or “infidel” as he passed.

In the village, Mr. Qazimi’s influence eventually became so disruptive that residents demanded his removal after he forbade girls and boys to shake hands. But in Gjilan he continued to draw dozens of young people to his after-hours classes.

“They were moving 100 percent according to lessons they were taking from Zekirja Qazimi,” Mr. Bajrami said in an interview. “One hundred percent, in an ideological way.”

Evening prayer at the mosque of the radical imam Fadil Musliu on the outskirts of Pristina, the capital. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Extremism Spreads

Over time, the Saudi-trained imams expanded their work.

By 2004, Mr. Musliu, one of the master’s degree students from Podujevo who studied in Saudi Arabia, had graduated and was imam of a mosque in the capital, Pristina.

In Podujevo, he set up a local charitable organization called Devotshmeria, or Devotion, which taught religion classes and offered social programs for women, orphans and the poor. It was funded by Al Waqf al Islami, a Saudi organization that was one of the 19 eventually closed by investigators.

Mr. Musliu put a cousin, Jetmir Rrahmani, in charge.

“Then I knew something was starting that would not bring any good,” said Mr. Bilalli, the moderate cleric who had started out teaching with him. In 2004, they had a core of 20 Wahhabis.

“That was only the beginning,” Mr. Bilalli said. “They started multiplying.”

Mr. Bilalli began a vigorous campaign against the spread of unauthorized mosques and Wahhabi teaching. In 2008, he was elected head of the Islamic Community of Podujevo and instituted religion classes for women, in an effort to undercut Devotshmeria.

As he sought to curb the extremists, Mr. Bilalli received death threats, including a note left in the mosque’s alms box. An anonymous telephone caller vowed to make him and his family disappear, he said.

“Anyone who opposes them, they see as an enemy,” Mr. Bilalli said.

He appealed to the leadership of the Islamic Community of Kosovo. But by then it was heavily influenced by Arab gulf sponsors, he said, and he received little support.

When Mr. Bilalli formed a union of fellow moderates, the Islamic Community of Kosovo removed him from his post. His successor, Bekim Jashari, equally concerned by the Saudi influence, nevertheless kept up the fight.

“I spent 10 years in Arab countries and specialized in sectarianism within Islam,” Mr. Jashari said. “It’s very important to stop Arab sectarianism from being introduced to Kosovo.”

Mr. Jashari had a couple of brief successes. He blocked the Saudi-trained imam Mr. Sogojeva from opening a new mosque, and stopped a payment of 20,000 euros, about $22,400, intended for it from the Saudi charity Al Waqf al Islami.

He also began a website, Speak Now, to counter Wahhabi teaching. But he remains so concerned about Wahhabi preachers that he never lets his 19-year-old son attend prayers on his own.

The radical imams Mr. Musliu and Mr. Sogojeva still preach in Pristina, where for prayers they draw crowds of young men who glare at foreign reporters.

Mr. Sogojeva dresses in a traditional robe and banded cleric’s hat, but his newly built mosque is an incongruous modern multistory building. He admonished his congregation with a rapid-fire list of dos and don’ts in a recent Friday sermon.

Neither imam seems to lack funds.

In an interview, Mr. Musliu insisted that he was financed by local donations, but confirmed that he had received Saudi funding for his early religion courses.

The instruction, he said, is not out of line with Kosovo’s traditions. The increase in religiosity among young people was natural after Kosovo gained its freedom, he said.

“Those who are not believers and do not read enough, they feel a bit shocked,” he said. “But we coordinated with other imams, and everything was in line with Islam.”

The entrance to the grounds of the Serbian Orthodox monastery in Decani in western Kosovo. In January, four armed Islamists passed through the checkpoint and were arrested at the monastery gates. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

A Tilt Toward Terrorism

The influence of the radical clerics reached its apex with the war in Syria, as they extolled the virtues of jihad and used speeches and radio and television talks shows to urge young people to go there.

Mr. Qazimi, who was given the 10-year prison sentence, even organized a summer camp for his young followers.

“It is obligated for every Muslim to participate in jihad,” he told them in one videotaped talk. “The Prophet Muhammad says that if someone has a chance to take part in jihad and doesn’t, he will die with great sins.”

“The blood of infidels is the best drink for us Muslims,” he said in another recording.

Among his recruits, investigators say, were three former civilian employees of American contracting companies at Camp Bondsteel, where American troops are stationed. They included Lavdrim Muhaxheri, an Islamic State leader who was filmed executing a man in Syria with a rocket-propelled grenade.

After the suicide bombings, the authorities opened a broad investigation and found that the Saudi charity Al Waqf al Islami had been supporting associations set up by preachers like Mr. Qazimi in almost every regional town.

Al Waqf al Islami was established in the Balkans in 1989. Most of its financing came from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, Kosovo investigators said in recent interviews. Unexplained gaps in its ledgers deepened suspicions that the group was surreptitiously funding clerics who were radicalizing young people, they said.

Investigators from Kosovo’s Financial Intelligence Unit found that Al Waqf al Islami, which had an office in central Pristina and a staff of 12, ran through €10 million from 2000 through 2012. Yet they found little paperwork to explain much of the spending.

More than €1 million went to mosque building. But one and a half times that amount was disbursed in unspecified cash withdrawals, which may have also gone to enriching its staff, the investigators said.

Only 7 percent of the budget was shown to have gone to caring for orphans, the charity’s stated mission.

By the summer of 2014, the Kosovo police shut down Al Waqf al Islami, along with 12 other Islamic charities, and arrested 40 people.

The charity’s head offices, in Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands, have since changed their name to Al Waqf, apparently separating themselves from the Balkans operation.

Asked about the accusations in a telephone interview, Nasr el Damanhoury, the director of Al Waqf in the Netherlands, said he had no direct knowledge of his group’s operations in Kosovo or the Balkans.

The charity has ceased all work outside the Netherlands since he took over in 2013, he said. His predecessor had returned to Morocco and could not be reached, and Saudi board members would not comment, he said.

“Our organization has never supported extremism,” Mr. Damanhoury said. “I have known it since 1989. I joined them three years ago. They have always been a mild group.”


Kosovars celebrating the independence of Kosovo from Serbia in 2008. Credit Bela Szandelszky/Associated Press

Unheeded Warnings

Why the Kosovar authorities — and American and United Nations overseers — did not act sooner to forestall the spread of extremism is a question being intensely debated.

As early as 2004, the prime minister at the time, Bajram Rexhepi, tried to introduce a law to ban extremist sects. But, he said in a recent interview at his home in northern Kosovo, European officials told him that it would violate freedom of religion.

“It was not in their interest, they did not want to irritate some Islamic countries,” Mr. Rexhepi said. “They simply did not do anything.”

Not everyone was unaware of the dangers, however.

At a meeting in 2003, Richard C. Holbrooke, once the United States special envoy to the Balkans, warned Kosovar leaders not to work with the Saudi Joint Relief Committee for Kosovo, an umbrella organization of Saudi charities whose name still appears on many of the mosques built since the war, along with that of the former Saudi interior minister, Prince Naif bin Abdul-Aziz.

A year later, it was among several Saudi organizations that were shut down in Kosovo when it came under suspicion as a front for Al Qaeda. Another was Al-Haramain, which in 2004 was designated by the United States Treasury Department as having links to terrorism.

Yet even as some organizations were shut down, others kept working. Staff and equipment from Al-Haramain shifted to Al Waqf al Islami, moderate imams familiar with their activities said.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia appears to have reduced its aid to Kosovo. Kosovo Central Bank figures show grants from Saudi Arabia averaging €100,000 a year for the past five years.

It is now money from Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — which each average approximately €1 million a year — that propagates the same hard-line version of Islam. The payments come from foundations or individuals, or sometimes from the Ministry of Zakat (Almsgiving) from the various governments, Kosovo’s investigators say.

But payments are often diverted through a second country to obscure their origin and destination, they said. One transfer of nearly €500,000 from a Saudi individual was frozen in 2014 since it was intended for a Kosovo teenager, according to the investigators and a State Department report.

Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations were still raising millions from “deep-pocket donors and charitable organizations” based in the gulf, the Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen, said in a speech in 2014 at the Center for a New American Security.

While Saudi Arabia has made progress in stamping out funding for Al Qaeda, sympathetic donors in the kingdom were still funding other terrorist groups, he said.

Today the Islamic Community of Kosovo has been so influenced by the largess of Arab donors that it has seeded prominent positions with radical clerics, its critics say.

Ahmet Sadriu, a spokesman for Islamic Community of Kosovo, said the group held to Kosovo’s traditionally tolerant version of Islam. But calls are growing to overhaul an organization now seen as having been corrupted by outside forces and money.

Kosovo’s interior minister, Skender Hyseni, said he had recently reprimanded some of the senior religious officials.

“I told them they were doing a great disservice to their country,” he said in an interview. “Kosovo is by definition, by Constitution, a secular society. There has always been historically an unspoken interreligious tolerance among Albanians here, and we want to make sure that we keep it that way.”

 Albert Berisha, sentenced to prison for going to Syria to fight, says he did not join the Islamic State. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Families Divided

For some in Kosovo, it may already be too late.

Families have been torn apart. Some of Kosovo’s best and brightest have been caught up in the lure of jihad.

One of Kosovo’s top political science graduates, Albert Berisha, said he left in 2013 to help the Syrian people in the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. He abandoned his attempt after only two weeksand he says he never joined the Islamic State — but has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison, pending appeal.

Ismet Sakiqi, an official in the prime minister’s office and a veteran of the liberation struggle, was shaken to find his 22-year-old son, Visar, a law student, arrested on his way through Turkey to Syria with his fiancée. He now visits his son in the same Kosovo prison where he was detained under Serbian rule.

And in the hamlet of Busavate, in the wooded hills of eastern Kosovo, a widower, Shemsi Maliqi, struggles to explain how his family has been divided. One of his sons, Alejhim, 27, has taken his family to join the Islamic State in Syria.

It remains unclear how Alejhim became radicalized. He followed his grandfather, training as an imam in Gjilan, and served in the village mosque for six years. Then, two years ago, he asked his father to help him travel to Egypt to study.

Mr. Maliqi still clings to the hope that his son is studying in Egypt rather than fighting in Syria. But Kosovo’s counterterrorism police recently put out an international arrest warrant for Alejhim.

“Better that he comes back dead than alive,” Mr. Maliqi, a poor farmer, said. “I sent him to school, not to war. I sold my cow for him.”

Alejhim had married a woman from the nearby village of Vrbice who was so conservative that she was veiled up to her eyes and refused to shake hands with her brother-in-law.

The wife’s mother angrily refused to be interviewed. Her daughter did what was expected and followed her husband to Syria, she said.

Secretly, Alejhim drew three others — his sister; his best friend, who married his sister; and his wife’s sister — to follow him to Syria, too. The others have since returned, but remain radical and estranged from the family.

Alejhim’s uncle, Fehmi Maliqi, like the rest of the family, is dismayed. “It’s a catastrophe,” he said.


21-05-2016

By Carlota Gall

Source: The New York Times

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Donald Trump’s foreign policy adviser: Al-Qaeda destroyed the Serbian army in Kosovo



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Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, published the list of his foreign policy advisers. One of them, claim the US media, is the worst choice possible.

The list of advisers is headed by Senator Jeff Sessions, and includes Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares and Joseph E. Schmitz.

Phares is the former adviser to another presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

Phares is described as a neo-conservative and “an academic who is involved in Christian militia wing of the civil war in Lebanon”.

US media deemed Phares as an inappropriate analyst of US foreign policy, while one of his statements that is being considered unfitting is regarding NATO’s bombing of Serbia and Kosovo.

“An all-out campaign by Al-Qaeda destroyed the Serbian Army in Kosovo and led to regime change in Serbia”.

In an analysis, published one year before Kosovo declared independence, Phares stated that “if that [independence] happens, then the same must also offered Bosnian Serbs.”


22-03-2016

Source: GazzetaExpress

Kosovo ISIL Ridvan Haqifi and Lavdrim Muhaxheri

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The World According to ISIS



ISIL 1

This article is excerpted from Fawaz A. Gerges’s forthcoming book, ISIS: A History.

Although the spectacular surge of ISIS must be contextualized within the social and political circumstances that exist in Iraq and Syria and beyond, the group’s worldview and ideology should be taken equally seriously. Ideology is, after all, the superglue that binds Salafi-jihadists known as revolutionary religious activists or global jihadists of the ISIS variety to each other. The Salafi-jihadist movement emerged from an alliance between ultraconservative Saudi Salafism (or Wahhabism) and revolutionary Egyptian Islamism which was inspired by the Egyptian master theorist, Sayyid Qutb. The Afghan war against Soviet occupation from 1980s onwards baptized Salafi-jihadists by blood and fire and lay the operational foundation of what subsequently came to be known as Al Qaeda. Ever since, a vibrant ideology has allowed the Salafi-jihadist movement to renew and revitalize itself after suffering crushing blows. A traveling and expanding ideology, Salafi-jihadism has evolved into a powerful social movement with a repertoire of ideas, iconic leaders, worldwide supporters, networks of recruiters and enablers, theorists, preachers who provide members with ideological and theological sustenance. It has taken hold of the imagination of small Sunni communities worldwide.

Regardless of what happens to ISIS—which is an extension of the global Salafi-jihadist movement which includes a litany of groups, like Al Qaeda central—this messianic ideology is here to stay and will likely gain more followers in politically and socially polarized Arab and Muslim societies. Despite a costly civil war unfolding between ISIS and Al Qaeda Central, particularly in Syria, Salafi-jihadists continue to expand their influence and attract new recruits. A fringe social movement during the second half of the 20th century, Salafi-jihadism now vies for public influence and offers an alternative for both mainstream and radical Islamists. It is a popular, enduring brand. A sense of triumphalism permeates the discourse and public pronouncements by Salafi-jihadist ideologues and propagandists who openly proselytize. They boast that the tide of history has shifted their way and that they are on the cusp of a historical breakthrough.

Researchers have tended to underestimate the power of the Salafi-jihadist ideology at their own peril. The challenge is to shine light on this growing ideology and make sense of it. Although ISIS is an extension of the global Salafi-jihadist movement, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS who anointed himself caliph in the summer of 2014, and his cohorts represent another wave, a post-Al Qaeda generation, of Salafi-jihadists. At present, ISIS—its ideology, as well as its state and security status—has successfully tapped into a fierce clash of identities between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.    The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 caused a rupture in an already fractured Iraqi society. America’s destruction of Iraqi institutions, particularly its dismantling of the army and the Baathist ruling party, unleashed a fierce power struggle, mainly along sectarian lines, creating fissures in society. These growing ruptures provided the room necessary for non-state actors and armed insurgent militias, including Al Qaeda (AQI), to infiltrate the fragile body politic in post-2003 Iraq. In contrast to Al Qaeda Central whose key concern is the far enemy—that is, the US and its close European allies—AQI and its successor ISIS are a hyper-Sunni identity driven by an intrinsic and even genocidal anti-Shia ideology. ISIS’s lineage of Salafi-jihadism forms part of the ideological impetus; the other part of its ideological nature is an identity frame of politics. Despite the group’s insistence that it operates within a different value system from that promulgated by Western liberalism and the nation state system, its ideological rhetoric is anchored not in novelty but in identity politics whose main articulating pole is religious. Religion can act as a potent framework for social identity, especially in war environments where insecurity runs high and cultivates group loyalty by projecting itself as the truth and the right path to follow.

By providing a clear structure through strict sets of rules and beliefs and a worldview that encompasses life on earth and in the afterlife, ISIS presents individuals with the promise of an eternal group membership, which can prove particularly attractive for people prone to existential anxiety. Moreover, scholars point out that several factors feed into (Abrahamic) fundamentalist ideology, including dualism (absolute evaluations of good versus evil), authority (of a sacred book or leader), selectivity(choosing certain beliefs or practices over others), and millennialism (confidence in eschatology as God’s will). Of all factors, however, one facet is thought to be vital:“reactivity,”F[1] which takes the form of a hostility toward secular modernity that is directed not only toward people outside of the fundamentalists’ religious in-group but also toward members of their own religious group who are not viewed as “true believers.”

In this light, ISIS’s development of a pure and absolutist ideology can be seen as part of a strategy to feed its members’ fundamentalism by emphasizing their exclusivity while projecting a universalist vision. For example, the widespread use of suicide bombers by Salafi-jihadist groups such as ISIS constitutes a recent modus operandi in Islam rather than a return to the roots. Few Muslim communities appear to be currently entangled in a war of subjectivities that stems from a series of ruptures that started with the Enlightenment and that takes the form of an Islamic-Islamic civil war over the Muslim identity itself.[2]  Meanwhile, many Arabs are also involved in an interpretative dispute about their being-in-the-world in which both the Arab world and the world at large are questioned and contested. According to an Arab philosopher, Fathi al Makdisi, the current rise of Salafi-jihadism and terrorism represented by ISIS is the result of not only creeping sectarianism or a crisis of the modern state, but also a growing nihilism that signals the collapse of progressive values and tolerance in its conception of humanity.[3]

Nevertheless, far from being sui generis, genealogically and ideologically ISIS belongs to the Salafi-jihadist family, although it marks another stage in the evolution or, rather, mutation of the ideological gene pool. Over the past half century, the Salafi-jihadist movement has developed a repertoire of ideas, a frame of reference, theorists, thousands of followers, and “martyrs” who provide inspiration for new volunteers and who ensure the durability of the brand. ISIS has been able to draw from this repertoire, re-articulating old concepts and presenting them as new or revolutionary. Its rhetoric makes use of religious ideology to articulate identity politics. Indeed, religion has for some time been the glue that maintains the coherence, if not the unity, of various factions and divisions, and the rationale for vicious and flamboyant violence. Salafi-jihadists from various orientations, including ISIS, always cite verses from Qur’anic scripture to portray their offensive jihad as blessed.

The world according to ISIS is frozen in time and space, incorporating the rules and laws of seventh-century Arabia into the twenty-first century. Its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his associates depict themselves as battling the “antichrist” and paving the way for the ultimate triumph of the “Mahdi” and Islam (in Arabic, the Mahdi means “the Guided One,” the central crowning element of all Islamic end-time narratives, or an expected spiritual and temporal ruler destined to establish a reign of righteousness throughout the world). This millenarian thinking is at the heart of ISIS’s caliphate ideology and the global jihadist movement in general. The problem is not to know whether ISIS is Islamic—of course it is, though Muslims worldwide disavow it and distance themselves from its actions—but rather to understand how this organization borrows heavily but selectively from the Islamic canon and imposes the past on the present wholesale. Baghdadi and his propagandists overlook centuries of Islamic interpretations and counterinterpretations and rely on a narrow, strict, and obsolete textualist reading of the Islamic doctrine, a move that is very controversial and deeply contested by the religious community and al-Islam al-Sha’bi (lived Islam). There is no swell of public support for ISIS in Muslim societies, including the areas in Syria and Iraq under its control and hardly any important preacher or a cleric has lent his voice to Baghdadi’s Caliphate. Despite its sound and fury, ISIS remains a fringe phenomenon that is too extreme for mainstream Muslim opinion but sounds like a sweet melody to the ears of its social base. This base continues to replenish the ranks of ISIS and similar organizations with willing combatants and suicide bombers. Time and again politicians and observers have penned the obituary of the global jihadist movement only to be shocked by its resilience and capacity for self-renewal. Ideology is a significant factor in this process of regeneration, and it confers legitimacy on ISIS’s actions.

Under ISIS, there is no breathing space for social mobilization and political organization, including by like-minded Salafi-jihadist activism. ISIS possesses a totalitarian, millenarian worldview that eschews political pluralism, competition, and diversity of thought. Baghdadi and his associates criminalize and excommunicate free thought, and the idea that there should exist a legitimate other—be it a Muslim of differing ideological disposition or a non-Muslim—is alien to their messianic ideology. Any Muslim or co-jihadist who does not accept ISIS’s interpretation of the Islamic doctrine is an apostate who deserves death. In the same vein, any Muslim or co-jihadist who refuses to submit to the will of the new caliphate faces either expulsion from the land or death. One here needs to recall the words uttered by ISIS’s chief propagandist and official spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, following the establishment of the Islamic State. In a communiqué, Adnani, whose real name is Taha Sobhi Falaha, demanded that all jihadist factions everywhere pledge allegiance to the new caliph, Baghdadi, as the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations was now null and void. In his own words, “The land now submits to his order and authority from Aleppo to Diyala.”[4]Adnani made it clear that there is only one Islamic state and one caliphate, with no room for dissent: “Indeed, it is the state. Indeed, it is the khilafah [caliphate]. It is time for you to end this abhorrent partisanship, dispersion, and division, for this condition is not from the religion of Allah at all. And if you forsake the State or wage war against it, you will not harm it. You will harm yourselves.”[5] He also warned that all Muslims must obey the commander of the faithful, including former and current aspirants to the title, and ordered his fighters to “split the head” and “strike the neck” of anyone who breaks the ranks and does not submit to the will of the new caliphate.[6]

In ISIS’s worldview, then, the caliphate is not just a political entity but also a collective religious obligation (wajib kifa’i), a means to salvation: Muslims have sinned since they abandoned the obligation of the caliphate, and, ever since, the umma has not tasted “honor” or “triumph.” ISIS’s repeated message to Muslims is that they must pledge allegiance to a valid caliph, Baghdadi, and honor that oath and live a fully Islamic life.

Politics and Tactics

Behind the romantic idea of the caliphate, however, lies identity politics, as the core of ISIS’s ideological framework is the affirmation of its “Sunni Islamic” identity and its redefinition of true Islam. Adnani’s orders might have given the illusion that the establishment of the Islamic State entails a real rupture from the present state system, but, just like under Saddam Hussein, under ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq is headed by an absolute leader who tolerates no dissent. In fact, ISIS’s conception of sovereignty does not break away from the autocratic mode of governance that has plagued Arab countries for decades: for example, both Hussein in Iraq and the Assads in Syria have used identity politics as a pillar for their policies—albeit an ethnic rather than a religious version.

ISIS has used its messianic ideology to brutally suppress both Islamists and nationalists (Baathists) in areas under its domination. Its raison d’être is to convert everyone to its cause, including rival jihadists who share a similar vision. For example, in a severe rebuttal, Adnani harshly criticized Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda Central and the most senior living jihadist, for daring to side with the chief of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, against Baghdadi in the power struggle for Syria. ISIS’s chief spokesman bluntly reminded Zawahiri that should he make it to the territories of the Islamic State, he would have to swear baiya (fealty) to Baghdadi and serve as one of his footsoldiers. As Baghdadi pledged allegiance to Zawahiri in 2010, this open attack represents the ultimate insult.[7]

ISIS’s hard-line stance has caused much havoc within the global jihadist movement, even leading to a split between ISIS and al-Nusra, which was originally constituted on Baghdadi’s orders. A key cause of the rift between the two organizations was that Joulani rejected an order by Baghdadi in April 2013 to annex his front to ISIS. Baghdadi considered Joulani’s snub treacherous and ever since has waged all-out war against al-Nusra and its Islamist and nationalist Syrian allies. The intra-jihadist confrontation in Syria has killed thousands of skilled fighters from both camps and has seen atrocities committed by each side, including wholesale rape, beheadings, and crucifixions. The war within the jihadist tribe is as savage as the war with outsiders. Islamic State followers and those of Al Qaeda Central excommunicate one another and marshal religious discourse to show that they are the real jihadist vanguard, while their rivals are pretenders. In Syria ISIS could not coexist with al-Nusra or any other Islamist group because that would have challenged its monopoly on the scared and on the global jihadist project as well. In addition to mastering the art of making enemies of all regional and global powers, ISIS eliminates conventional politics altogether and aspires to organize society along puritanical lines of seventh-century Arabia, a worldview that imposes the distant past on the present.

It is no wonder, then, that ISIS engages in cultural cleansing, purifying the Islamic lands of all alien and infidel influences, including traditional Sunni practices that clash with its fundamentalist and timeless interpretation of the Islamic doctrine. The idea of purifying the Islamic lands is deeply ingrained in the imagination of radical religious activists, but ISIS is the first social movement to attempt to operationalize this ideology. As Islamic State militants swept across Syria and Iraq, they destroyed, damaged, and/or looted numerous cultural sites and sculptures, condemning them as idolatry. Celebrating their cultural cleansing in spectacular propaganda displays, Islamic State fighters show by deeds, not words, their intent to purify the lands and resurrect the caliphate. While ISIS’s propaganda is abhorrent to the outside world, it is greedily devoured by its social base. Its slickly produced recruitment films about cultural cleansing not only reinforce its strategic message of triumph and expansion but also divert attention from battlefield setbacks.3[8]

 A Pure Caliphate

For an authentic Islamic state to be erected, the Sunni militants of ISIS feel that the Islamic lands must be cleansed of apostasy and heretics, regardless of the human or civilizational costs. In fact, ISIS’s fighters are keen on displaying an ideological zeal and purity in an effort to outbid their Islamist rivals like Jabhat al-Nusra, the official arm of Al Qaeda Central. For example, in an attempt to cleanse Sunni society of other cultural influences, ISIS has sought to dismantle the diverse social fabric made up of Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Yazidis, and Christians that has developed and persevered since the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq. Broadly, their wrath is directed at minorities whom they view as infidels without human rights. A case that illustrates ISIS’s ideology of ethnic cleansing is its extraordinary punishment of the Yazidis, a tiny religious minority, representing less than 1.5 percent of Iraq’s estimated population of thirty-four million, whom ISIS considers heretics. After the capture of Mosul and its outlying towns in summer 2014, including Sinjar, near the Syrian border, home to tens of thousands of Yazidis, ISIS engaged in systemic cultural cleansing, forcing hundreds of thousands of minorities from their homes and using sexual violence as a weapon by indiscriminately raping Yazidi girls and women. ISIS viciously attacked the Yazidis, killing men and boys of fighting age and abducting a total of 5,270 Yazidi girls and women (at least 3,144 of whom are still being held at the time of writing), who were subsequently forced into sexual slavery, according to human rights organizations, United Nations figures, and community leaders. To handle the modern sex trade, ISIS has set up a Department of “War Spoils” and a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by its Islamic courts, according to a cache of documents seized by US Special Operations Forces in a May 2015 raid in Syria that killed top ISIS financial official Aby Sayyaf.[9]And systemic rape has become an established and increasingly powerful recruiting tool for ISIS to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.[10]

According to the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and investigative reports by the media, ISIS has destroyed hundreds of Yazidi women’s lives.4[11] Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, spoke to forty Yazidi women who had managed to escape from ISIS captivity, and said that what ISIS had done to them amounted to war crimes. “Hundreds of Yezidi women and girls have had their lives shattered by the horrors of sexual violence and sexual slavery in IS captivity,” she said.[12] Zainab Bangura, a UN envoy investigating sexual violence in the conflict, has confirmed that an ISIS pamphlet that gives prices for the purchase of women is real and that “the girls get peddled like barrels of petrol.” Bangura notes that prices for boys and girls aged one to nine are about $165. Adolescent girls cost about $124, and it’s less for women over twenty. “They have a machinery, they have a program,” she told Bloomberg News. “They have a manual on how you treat these women.”[13]According to ISIS’s ideology, Yazidis are seen as polytheists and, worse, devil worshipers, and they are not even entitled to be treated like “People of the Book,” Christians and Jews, who can atone for their sins by paying a tax known as jizya to be set free. In contrast, ISIS either kills or coverts Yazidis by force and enslaves their women, a punishment sanctioned, they say, by their experts of Islamic jurisprudence.

ISIS’s involvement in the sex trade and its enslavement of girls and women from the tiny Yazidi religious community are driven not only by power and male (patriarchal) domination but also by ideological zealousness. Baghdadi and his shura council (cabinet) want to distinguish themselves from Islamist rivals by attempting to revive traditions, rituals, and practices that have been dormant for over a thousand years in Muslim history. They have falsely made emulation of the Prophet Mohammed a strict duty, a tool to display their religious purity and authenticity.[14]For example, citing selective sayings of the Prophet, a booklet entitled “From Creator’s Rulings on Capturing Prisoners and Enslavement,” calls for both kindness and cruelty to captives by ISIS. Enslaved women should not be separated from their children, the booklet says, but the rules allow the group’s combatants to have sex with female slaves[15]ISIS has also publicly boasted about its enslavement of Yazidi women in their magazine called Dabiq and in their propaganda videos. ISIS has justified its actions on religious grounds by juxtaposing the distant past with the present and selectively citing verses from the scripture or the Sunna (the traditions based on the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed) to justify their sex slavery. In an October 2014 article titled “The Revival of Slavery before the Hour,” the group argues that the Yazidi women “could be enslaved unlike female apostates [the Shia], who the majority of the fuqahā’ [experts in Islamic jurisprudence] say cannot be enslaved and can only be given an ultimatum to repent or face the sword. . . . After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Sharī’ah [Islamic law] amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations, after one fifth of the slaves were transferred to the Islamic State’s authority to be divided as khums [the one-fifth of booty or spoils that goes to the state].”[16]

Christians do not fare much better. After capturing Mosul and other cities in Iraq and Syria, ISIS presented Christians in both countries with a stark choice: convert to Islam, pay a special tax (jizya), or get out immediately and be disinherited from everything you own. Recent evidence shows that despite paying the special tax, Christian girls and women have been victims of ISIS’s practice of systemic rape. In light of this ultimatum, the ISIS surge has triggered another wave of exodus by Christians, an exodus that began in earnest when its forerunner, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, also commonly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, forced 1 million of Iraq’s surviving 1.5 million Christians to flee the country between 2003 and 2010. There is a real danger that Baghdadi could finish the job of his predecessor, Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006 by the United States—a job that would entail ridding Iraq of its ancient Assyrian community, nearly two thousand years old.

ISIL International

Moreover, ISIS’s totalitarian religious ideology also openly targets Muslims. Trying to distinguish themselves theologically from like-minded Islamist radicals, including Al Qaeda Central, Baghdadi and his cohorts are intensely takfiri44F—that is, followers of the takfiri doctrine, which calls for excommunication of a person or a group of kuffar (infidels) or non-Muslims. ISIS considers Shia Muslims to be apostates, sanctioning the shedding of their blood as well as that of Sunnis who oppose their vision. While it can be argued that Arab authoritarian rulers such as President Bashar al-Assad and former Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki have not done enough to protect the region’s minorities against ISIS, these sectarian-based regimes created fertile conditions that allowed Salafi-jihadist groups like ISIS to build a popular base of support among Sunnis and surge. Indeed, ISIS is the main beneficiary of the divisive and destructive policies of the central governments of Iraq and Syria and the breakdown of state institutions in the Arab arena in general. From the beginning Baghdadi and his cohorts depicted themselves as the sole defenders of excluded and aggrieved Sunni communities against Shia-dominated regimes, first in Baghdad and then in Damascus.

As discussed at the beginning, ISIS is a near-enemy revolutionary movement, focusing on the Arab-Islamic world, not a far-enemy organization targeting the Western powers, even though it has recently devoted more resources to carrying out attacks against the far enemy, including Russia, Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia. It is an ideational, hyper-Sunni movement that harbors a genocidal ideology against the Shia, which means that roughly 120 Shias are marked for death. After it burst out of its original home in Iraq, ISIS expanded to Syria in 2012, with grand ambitions to spread to neighboring countries. In his second address to the world in November 2014, Baghdadi confirmed that his imperial ambitions were not limited to Iraq and Syria but also included Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and beyond.[17]

Theorist Enablers of ISIS

Although ISIS does not have its own reputed scholars or theorists, it has mined Salafi-jihadists’ repertoire of ideas and selectively borrowed whatever fits its unique worldview. At times, the organization has even been accused of falsely appropriating the works of extremist Salafi theorists. For example, a prominent Salafi-jihadist scholar, Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, lashed out angrily against Baghdadi’s cohorts for stealing his writings considered to be foundational by Salafi-jihadist and claiming them as their own. Maqdisi, however, is not a major inspiration for ISIS, as the group is nourished on a bloodier and deadlier diet. Baghdadi and his inner circle rely particularly on three Salafi-jihadist manifestos to rationalize and justify what they do.[18]The most well-known of the three is The Management of Savagery. Circulated in PDF format under the pseudonym Abu Bakr al-Najji in the early 2000s, the manifesto provides a strategic roadmap of how to create an Islamic caliphate that differs dramatically from similar efforts by Salafi-jihadists in earlier decades. The second book is Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Jihad by Abu Abdullah al-Muhajjer, which calls on Salafi-jihadists to do whatever it takes to establish a purely unified Islamic state. The final book is The Essentials of Making Ready [for Jihad] by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, aka Abdel-Qader Ibn Abdel-Aziz or Dr. Fadl. This massive work focuses on the theological and practical meanings of jihad in Islam, and it has become a central text in jihadi training. Dr. Fadl admitted that he wrote the book in 1987–1988 in order for it to be a manual for training camps of what subsequently became known as Al Qaeda.47F[19]

While Najji’s identity remains unconfirmed, both Muhajjer and Dr. Fadlwere close associates of Zawahiri. Muhajjer is an Egyptian national who fought in Afghanistan alongside Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri. After graduating from the Islamic University in Islamabad and teaching at jihadist camps in Kabul, Muhajjer mentored fighters at Zarqawi’s camp in Herat, and he was seriously considered as a candidate for the scientific and scholarly committee of Al Qaeda Central.[20] After the collapse of the Taliban rule in 2001, he escaped to Iran and was held by the authorities there until his release to Egypt just after the January 25, 2011, revolution. Dr. Fadl was an early associate of Zawahiri. The two first met in the late 1960s in Cairo, where they both attended Cairo University’s medical school. In the early 1980s their paths crossed again in Pakistan-Afghanistan, where they worked together to rebuild Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a Salafi-jihadist group. After September 11, 2001, Dr. Fadl and Zawahiri parted ways, engaging in a public feud over ideology and the future direction of the global jihadist movement. While serving a life sentence in an Egyptian prison, Dr. Fadl subsequently disowned his ideas and called for the demilitarization and deradicalization of the Salafi-jihadist camp. But despite Dr. Fadl’s subsequent revisions and repudiation of his extremist ideas, his book has taken a life of its own, a bible for many Salafi-jihadist. The story and journey of the three theorists show the enduring intellectual impact of the pioneers or the first generation of Salafi-jihadists on the movement as a whole. As a traveling ideology, Salafi-jihadism is nourished on ideas that can be tailored to fit the predilections and whims of every wave, providing nourishment and motivation to new coverts and adherents.

The three manifestos represent the most extreme thinking within the movement and the degeneration of the Salafi-jihadist ideology into Fiqh al-Damaa (the jurisprudence of blood). Although most analysts focus mainly on The Management of Savagery, the other two manifestos are as important in providing intellectual and ideological motivation and inspiration for Baghdadi and his ideologues. Despite differences, there are common conceptual threads among the three manifestos that offer theoretical guidance for ISIS’s actions. First, the three books call for all-out war and advocate performing offensive (jihad) as opposed to only defensive jihad in order to bleed the kuffar (infidels) or the enemies of Islam, thus creating chaos and fear. At the heart of this rationalization lies the belief that Salafi-jihadists must rid themselves of the illusion that the establishment of an Islamic state is possible through gradual electoral means or the political process. The authors poke fun of fellow Islamists who call for a reformist approach, arguing that it is impossible to build the institutions of an Islamic state under a system of apostasy. Second, although this total war should target both the “near enemy” (Muslim rulers) and the “far enemy” (the US and its close European allies), they prioritize the fight against tyrannical Muslim rulers who do not apply shariah (Qur’anic law). Finally, all three manifestos call on the movement’s planners and lieutenants to kill with impunity, to observe no limits and follow in the footsteps of the Prophet’s companions, who, in their opinion, brutally punished dissenters and rivals. They cite selective cases of early Islamic history to prove their claim that excessive violence produces the desired effect: submission. According to their logic, viciousness is the secret to success and victory, while softheartedness is a recipe for failure and defeat. They also argue that the ends—reclaiming Islam’s golden age and establishing the Islamic state—justify the means—viciousness and savagery.

Total War = Total Victory

Although all three Salafi-jihadist theorists advocate offensive jihad rather than defensive jihad, Najji explicitly makes the case for all-out war. According to Najji, in the past Salafi-jihadists lacked a strategic blueprint and carried out isolated acts of violence with no comprehensive “military strategy” or master plan. He harshly criticizes fellow Islamists for squandering precious time and effort on “preaching” jihad rather than doing jihad.[21]Instead, Najji offers an expansive plan with three stages in which violence would be escalated qualitatively and strategically rather than in ad hoc and random way. In the first stage, al-Nikayawal-Tamkeen (vexation and empowerment), the will of the enemy must be broken by carrying out attacks against vital economic and strategic targets such as oil facilities and the tourism infrastructure. As security forces would rush in and mobilize resources to protect these sensitive targets, the state would be weakened and its powers would wither away, a condition conducive to “savagery and chaos.” Salafi-jihadists would then take advantage of this security vacuum, notes Najji, by launching an all-out battle on the thinly dispersed security forces.[22] Once the rulers are overthrown, a second phase would commence, Idrarat al-Tawhush (the administration or management of savagery), and the third and final stage, Shawkat al-Tamkeen (empowerment), would see the establishment of the Islamic state. This Islamic state, Najji explains, should be ruled by a single leader who would then unify diffuse and scattered groups and regions of “savagery” in a caliphate.[23] According to Najji, this third stage employs a mixture of persuasion and coercion to win hearts and minds and gain legitimacy and recognition forthe Islamic rule.

Although Najji does not directly acknowledge the influence of Sayyid Qutb, the master theorist of contemporary revolutionary Islamism, he borrows some of his terminology and Islamist references, such as al-Qilla al-Mumtaza (the vanguard) and Zulm al-Jahiliyya (the darkness of ignorance of divine guidance).[24] However, he explicitly professes inspiration from an influential fourteenth-century radical Islamic scholar and theologian called Ibn Taymiyya, whose fatwas (religious edicts) on jihad have provided motivation for multiple waves of Salafi-jihadists, including ISIS. Unsurprisingly, Najji emphasizes the significance of the media and propaganda as an ideological tool to mobilize and recruit the Muslim masses to the side of Salafi-jihadists during the first and second stages of the long war, and then to control them and pacify them during the final stage under a centralized Islamic rule.

In The Management of Savagery, Najji’s sole preoccupation is with the near enemy, secular and renegade Muslim rulers. He lists a few countries as a potentially fertile ground, mainly Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Africa, Nigeria, and Pakistan. However, Najji qualifies his shopping list by saying that it is temporary and that it would be more effective to apply his master plan to two or three countries before targeting the other cases.[25] Similarly, in The Essentials of Making Ready [for Jihad], Dr. Fadl contends that although jihad should target both the far enemy and the near enemy, the latter should take precedence. According to Dr. Fadl, the near enemy is those “infidel rulers” who “apply infidel laws and infidel democracy.”[26] He argues that attacking these rulers, whom he called Murtadeen (apostates), should even take priority over the other “jihad against Jews,” because they “are closer to us and they have abandoned and renounced Islamic beliefs.”55F[27] He depicts these Muslim rulers as more dangerous than kuffar—Christians and Jews.[28] Like Najji and Muhajjer, Dr. Fadl draws on Ibn Taymiyya’s fatwas to justify war against the near enemy, claiming that jihad against “apostate leaders” is Fard Ayn (an obligation) of every Muslim who has reached the age of fifteen.[29]Citing Ibn Taymiyya and being inspired by Qutb without naming him, he expands the list of apostates to “include anyone who rules by positivist [secular] laws.”[30] During this phase of jihad, Muslims should “display animosity and hatred towards those living infidels,” and “disavow their infidel principles such as communism and democracy,” and “isolate themselves even by migration from the infidels’ land.”[31]Dr. Fadleven argues that jihad against the enemy in its homeland should take place “at least once a year,” although he cites other Muslim scholars who argued that “there are no time limits to this Jihad.”6[32] The Muslim umma, he notes, must prioritize this offensive jihad, and both its internal and external policies, including agriculture, industry, commerce, and housing, must be geared to support this sacred mission.[33] He warns Muslims that anyone who avoids “jihad for the sake of God” would “betray Allah, his prophet and the religion itself.”[34]The key goal, notes Dr. Fadl, is to create Hakimiyya (the rule of God) on earth; this would occur “when Muslims defeat their enemies and apply Islam’s rules in the conquered lands.” [35] The concept of the vanguard is essential to the success of Dr. Fadl’s jihadist project, and he first and foremost calls on Salafi-jihadists to “form a Jama’a Muslima [Muslim group]” whose task is to recruit others to join the mission described in the manual.[36] The significance of Dr. Fadl’s manual is that it provides doctrinal justification in the fight against the near enemy, which ISIS prioritizes over that against the far enemy.[37]

Prioritizing the fight against the far enemy, Muhajjer calls on Salafi-jihadists to launch war on kuffar. In Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Jihad, he opposes the consensus among jurisprudents over the centuries and asserts that “killing kuffar and fighting them in their homeland is a necessity even if they do not harm Muslims.”[38]Muhajjer does not distinguish between “civilians” and “combatants” among non-Muslims because he bluntly confesses that the main reason for “killing them and confiscating their property” is the fact that “they are not Muslims.”[39] Moreover, the writer who earned the pseudonym Faqih al-Damaa (jurisprudent of blood) expanded the definition of Dar al-Kuffr (land of apostasy) to include countries inhabited by a majority of Muslims; these states do not apply shariah or Islamic law and thus are legitimate targets for attacks by Salafi-jihadists.[40]

Savagery as a Means to an End

Whether they prioritize the fight against the near enemy, as Najji does, or insist that attention should be paid to both the near enemy and the far enemy, as Dr. Fadl and Muhajjer (to a lesser extent) do, all three authors argue that the existing system of Kufr (apostasy) must be overthrown, incinerated, regardless of the inherent cost or sacrifice. In fact, the authors’ key argument is that Salafi-jihadists must hasten social and institutional disintegration of the state system and induce mayhem and be prepared to manage this cataclysm. The goal is to kill and terrorize not for the sake of killing or terrorism but for a higher moral purpose: cultural cleansing and the imposition of God’s laws on kuffar. For example, in The Management of Savagery, Najji points out that “the worst chaotic condition is by far preferable to stability under the system of apostasy”,[41]thus turning the received wisdom of the mainstream religious establishment on its head. He depicts Salafi-jihadists as the vanguard best equipped to trigger an apocalypse or an end to apostasy, an end to the world as we know it, and a religious rebirth. “We must drag all the people to battle and bring the temple down on the heads of everyone,” Najji states. Even “if the whole umma perishes, they would all be martyrs,” he adds, justifying the death of millions of Muslims as for a worthy cause.[42]

As to their favorite methods of violence, it seems that the authors have a preference for beheading and burning, which they see as effective in instilling fear and deterring others from resisting. Such vicious methods, they insist, can also be used to attack economic targets, particularly petroleum. Requiring sacrifice and pain, this confrontation must use shock-and-awe tactics to overwhelm the enemy, make him “think one thousand times before attacking us . . . and keep him on the defensive and off balance.”[43]Najji advocates attacking the population and infrastructure in order to terrorize the enemy and maximize levels of savagery.[44]

In a similar vein, Muhajjer advocates the use of gruesome methods such as beheading, a favorite tactic of his. In Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Jihad, he devotes a whole chapter to beheading, arguing that it would “convey a gory picture” by “strengthening the hearts of Muslims and terrorizing the apostates” by deterring them.[45]Muhajjer even provides theological justification for grotesque forms of punishment such as transporting and displaying the heads of those non-Muslims killed in battle from one country to another in order to boost the deterrence power of Salafi-jihadists.[46] He dedicates another chapter to suicide bombings, claiming that killing oneself is theologically legal because it is designed to boost religion. Going beyond Najji’s guidelines, Muhajjer advises Salafi-jihadists to obtain weapons of mass destruction, which he sees as a “necessity” in this total war.[47] Although he says that weapons of mass destruction must only be used in defense against an invasion by kuffar, he qualifies this by insisting on other measures of punishment if that would benefit Muslims.[48]

There is a sober, realist, cold-bloodedness to the guidelines offered by Najji, Muhajjer, and Dr. Fadl, a businesslike attitude that belies the dark, sinister, and vile ideological message. Their point of departure is that the Islamic State can only be nourished on “blood” and erected on “skeletons and human remains”; the whole society must be transformed into a war society prepared to wage a prolonged battle that will produce historical leaders. Although these leaders, caution the authors, will sustain deep wounds and suffer great personal losses, they are necessary to build a jihadist generation, a Qur’anic generation baptized by blood and fire.[49] Theirs is an existential fight between faith and Kufr, Islam and apostasy, and only total war against enemies near and far will bring about the Islamist utopia.

Totalitarian Religious Ideology: A Doubled-edged Sword

Much like it was for Al Qaeda before it, the world according to ISIS is characterized by a perpetual war against real and imagined enemies. Society is in constant mobilization, on a permanent war footing, to fend off enemies who lurk everywhere and hatch conspiracies against the Islamic State. According to this worldview, stability can only be attained when enemies are either subjugated or forced to recognize the group’s sacred mandate. This totalitarian and absolutist ideology is a doubled-edged sword that while, on the one hand, cemented the ties that bind among ISIS combatants and followers; it has blinded ISIS to the complex realities of governance at home and international relations abroad, on the other. There are credible reports of public restiveness in the areas under ISIS’s control in Syria and Iraq and even defection by some of its fighters. Residents also report that ISIS is experiencing serious financial hardship and is squeezing the local population in order to extract resources and conscript young men. Hundreds of leaked ISIS documents show that since the start of October 2015, the group has taken a number of measures, including military mobilization, fearing traitors in their midst. Becoming increasing paranoid, ISIS issued an amnesty for military deserters because it presumably needs more soldiers.[50]

Ideological fanaticism has also led the group to monstrously miscalculate by mastering the art of making enemies and turning the entire world against it. Although ISIS has done impressively on the battlefield so far, its political and strategic miscalculations and shortsightedness do not bode well for the group in the long term. With ISIS, there are no blurred lines or gray areas, only followers and enemies: you either pledge allegiance to Baghdadi and his ideology or are labeled an enemy who could be killed. There is no neutral stance between good and evil; passivity is seen as apostasy. This binary black-and-white worldview pitted the organization against most of humanity, including the godfathers of Salafi-jihadist thought and neutral states like Turkey. Turkey is a prime example of the effects of ISIS’s strategy of waging war on the entire world and turning neutral regional countries and potential friends into enemies. Of all regional powers, Turkey was the least hostile toward ISIS and could have encouraged the organization to demonstrate restraint and diplomatic awareness. At the end of 2015, ISIS allegedly carried out deadly attacks against foreign targets, including a Russian jet, and urban centers in Beirut and Paris, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians. These massive operations galvanized the great powers, particularly France and Russia, to coordinate and redouble their efforts to defeat ISIS. Instead of making an effort at diplomatic engagement that could have increased their claims of statehood, Baghdadi and his inner circle have united the world against them.

In a way, ISIS has rejected the structure of the state system and is attempting to offer an alternative revolutionary model based on Islamic identity, not state sovereignty. ISIS’s conduct seems suicidal, however. There is a disconnect between ISIS’s limited military capabilities and the long list of regional and global powers pitted against the group, including the two most powerful militaries in the international system—those of the Americans, the Russians, and the Europeans. With too many enemies and shrinking resources, it is doubtful if ISIS could sustain its stranglehold on the major cities that it controls in a prolonged fight over several years. A more plausible scenario is that, as military pressure intensifies against ISIS in the near future, its core middle and senior leaders might melt into urban areas and wage a terrorist campaign along similar lines to that of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) between 2007 and 2011. The “Islamic State” would mutate into its original type, an underground, paramilitary Salafi-jihadist organization. As explained previously, ISIS’s success so far has mainly depended on the group’s ability to exploit the deep communal divide in the region and the fragility of the state structures in Syria and Iraq as well as contradictions within the US-led coalition and the lack of effective local forces on the ground. More importantly, Baghdadi’s armed apparatus and “state” require a constant resupply of men of fighting age, arms, ammunition, and money, all of which have become scarce. Although foreign recruits continue to travel to Syria to join ISIS, albeit at a much reduced rate, there are credible reports of fighters who are disillusioned and defecting from the organization. The flow of jihadists to Syria has also dried up due to the Americans and the Turks working closely together by the end of 2015 to close down Turkey’s five-hundred-mile-long border with Syria, a border that until very recently provided a lifeline to ISIS.[51] Fundamentally, in the coming future, it may prove to be a significant challenge for ISIS to keep its overextended armada oiled and stocked within an increasingly hostile regional and international environment.

With many enemies and very few friends, Baghdadi and his armed contingents stand naked and alone in the eye of a gathering storm, much weaker than ISIS’s propagandists would like us to believe. The Islamic State is built on shaky foundations, and the foolishness and recklessness of its planners aggravate its predicament. Baghdadi and his inner circle are their own worst enemies. While it is essential not to underestimate ISIS’s military strength, its ideological fervor, and the asabiya (social solidarity) of its hard-core operators, it is also important not to buy into the group’s narrative of itself as invincible, undefeatable, and expandable. In comparative historical terms, ISIS is more like the Taliban in Afghanistan than the great revolutionary movements such as the Bolshevik Revolution and the Chinese Communist Revolution. The notion of ISIS’s invincibility is a myth. Supported by the US-led coalition airstrikes, the Kurds in Syria and Iraq have bloodied the nose of Baghdadi and his cohorts, delivering ISIS a hard blow. The Iraqi security forces backed by Sunni and Shia allies and US airpower have recaptured major cities and towns from ISIS in 2015, including Tikrit, Baiji, Sinjar, and Ramadi. Supported by coalition planes, the American-backed anti-ISIS alliance of Syrian Kurds and Arab rebel groups, known as the Democratic Forces of Syria, made important gains against the group in the latter half of 2015, threatening to cut off its last direct access to the Turkish border and hampering its ability to attract foreign recruits. In addition, the introduction of Russian airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria in 2015 has allowed the Syrian army to regain territories from the group, though most of the Russian attacks focused on other rebels opposed to the Assad regime. And after the Paris attacks in November 2015, the French, together with other European powers, have become more active in the fight against ISIS, providing logistical and military assistance to local forces in Iraq and Syria.

A few days before the Iraqi security forces expelled ISIS from the center of Ramadi in December 2015, Baghdadi released an audio tape, his first public message in seven months, in which he conceded that his group faces a dangerous moment, calling on his soldiers to be patient and steadfast. Trying to shore up the morale of his followers in a rare public message, his first in seven months, Baghdadi said that “Crusaders and Jews” did not dare to fight on his turf and portrayed the military setbacks as a trial by Allah to test the faith of his men. “Be confident that God will grant victory to those who worship him, and hear the good news that our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets,” he preached.[52] Baghdadi’s unusual acknowledgment of hardship and tribulation is not only related to recent military setbacks in Iraq and Syria but also to dissention within the group’s own ranks. The lesson is that ISIS can be defeated militarily if resisted by determined and organized local communities; whether this is an achievable goal in marginalized Sunni-majority areas in Iraq and Syria is another matter.

In the meantime, the organization will endure as long as the factors and circumstances that have fueled its rise remain in place in Iraq and Syria and beyond. While the fragility of the state structures in Iraq and Syria is the key cause of ISIS’s swift and spectacular surge, regional and global rivalries sustain and prolong its existence. As long as these conditions and cleavages exist, it is going to be difficult to defeat ISIS and dislodge it from Iraq and Syria.

Notes

[1] R. Ysseldyk, M. Kimberly, Matheson, and H. Anisman, “Religiosity as Identity: Toward an Understanding of Religion from a Social Identity Perspective,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 14, no. 1 (2010): 60–71.

[2]Fethi Benslama, La guerre des subjectivities en Islam (Paris: Nouvelles Editions Lignes, 2014).

[3]See the interview of Fathi al Makdisi: “The Modernity Promised by the Nation State Is No Longer Sufficient—There Is a Need for a New Affiliation,” al-Quds al-Arabi, August 22, 2015 [in Arabic],www.alquds.co.uk/?p=391704&print=1#comments_controls.

[4]See link to an audio message by Abu Mohammed al-Adnani,“Hazizahu Allah” (This is the promise of Allah) June 29, 2014, http://jihadology.net/2014/06/29/al-furqan-media-presents-a-new-audio-message-from-the-islamic-states-shaykh-abu-muḥammad-al-adnani-al-shami-this-is-the-promise-of-god/.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid.

[7]See link to a voice recording by Abu Mohammed al-Adnani,“Apologies, Leader of al-Qaeda,” declaring the revocation of the pledge of allegiance to Al Qaeda and calling on it to reject the pledge of allegiance by Joulani:www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAB(posted on September 17, 2014).

[8]Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad, “ISIS Fighters Seize Control of Syrian City of Palmyra, and Ancient Ruins,” New York Times, May 20, 2015. See also Anne Barnard, “ISIS Conquest of Palmyra Expands Militants’ Hold on Syria,” New York Times, May 21, 2015.

[9] Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, and Phil Stewart, “Exclusive: Seized documents reveal Islamic State’s Department of `War Spoils`,” Reuters, December 28, 2015]

[10]Rukmini Callimachi, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape,” New York Times, August 13, 2015; see also Judit Neurink, “The ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Viewed Women Held Captive at a Syrian House as His Private Property, and Raped a Number of Them, Including the US Hostage Kayla Mueller,” Independent, August 14, 2015.

[11]Amnesty International, Escape from Hell: Torture and Sexual Slavery in Islamic State Captivity in Iraq(London: Amnesty International, 2014),www.amnesty.org.uk/sites/default/files/escape_from_hell_-_torture_and_sexual_slavery_in_islamic_state_captivity_in_iraq_-_english_2.pdf; Rothna Begum and Samer Muscati, “Interview: These Yezidi Girls Escaped ISIS. Now What?,” Human Rights Watch, April 15, 2015; Samer Muscati, “Raped by ISIS and Trying to Face the Future,” Human Rights Watch, April 14, 2015.

[12]Amnesty International, Escape from Hell.

[13] The “price list” was first leaked by activists based in ISIS-controlled areas of Syria in November 2014, but it was unable to be verified and its authenticity was initially brought into question. Cormac Fitzgerald, “ISIS Executes 19 Female Prisoners for Refusing to Practice ‘Sexual Jihad’—Kurdish Official,” Irish Independent, August 6, 2015.

[14]Fiker Center for Studies, “The Islamic State Organization: Drivers and Ideology” [in Arabic],www.fikercenter.com/, summarized in AlSouria.net, July 18 and 22, 2015.

[15] Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, and Phil Stewart, “Exclusive: Seized documents reveal Islamic State’s Department of `War Spoils`,” Reuters, December 28, 2015].

[16]ISIS, “The Revival of Slavery before the Hour,”Dabiq, no. 4, October 2014.

[17]For Baghdadi’s audio statement in November 2014, seehttps://pietervanostaeyen.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/audio-message-by-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-even-if-the-disbelievers-despise-such/.

[18]Abu Bakr al-Najji, Idaraat al-Tawahush: Akhtar MarhalaaSatamur Beha al-Umma [Management of savagery: The most critical stage through which the Islamic nation will pass] (n.p.: Markaz al-DerasaatwalBuhuth al-Islamiyaa, n.d.), https://pietervanostaeyen.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/idarat_al-tawahhush_-_abu_bakr_naji.pdf; Abu Abdullah al-Muhajjer, Masael fi Fiqh al-Jihad [An introduction to the jurisprudence of jihad], https://archive.org/details/msael-mn; and Abdel-Qade Ibn Abdel-Aziz [Dr. Fadl], Al-’Umda fi I’dad al-’Udda[The essentials of making ready (for jihad)],www.m5zn.com/newuploads/2015/02/18/pdf/4f2fb076fd7d595.pdf.

[19]Abdel-Aziz, The Essentials of Making Ready, 5.

[20]Ibid. Moatez al-Khatib, “Daesh’s Intellectual Origins: From Jurisprudence to Reality,” January 2015, http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/dossiers/decipheringdaeshoriginsimpactandfuture/2014/12/2014123981882756.htm#a20.

[21]Najji, Management of Savagery, 83.

[22]Ibid., 20.

[23]Ibid., 50.

[24]Ibid., 75, 77.

[25]Ibid., 15.

[26]Abdel-Aziz, The Essentials of Making Ready, 340.

[27]Ibid., 342.

[28]Ibid., 313.

[29]Ibid., 30, 344. Fard Ayn (an individual duty) is an act that is obligatory for Muslims individually. Each will be rewarded for performing it, or punished for failing to perform it. The five daily prayers, for which Muslims are individually responsible, is one example of this duty.

[30]Ibid., 315.

[31]Ibid., 293–295.

[32]Ibid., 303.

[33]Ibid., 304.

[34]Ibid., 345.

[35]Ibid., 30.

[36]Ibid., 5.

[37]Fawaz Gerges, The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 14.

[38]Muhajjer, An Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Jihad,25.

[39]Ibid., 32.

[40]Ibid., 18.

[41]See Najji, Management of Savagery, 4.

[42]Ibid., 76.

[43]Ibid., 32.

[44] Ibid.

[45]Muhajjer, An Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Jihad, 270, 288.

[46]Ibid., 282.

[47]Ibid., 187–188.

[48]Ibid., 469.

[49]Najji, Management of Savagery, 76–79.

[50] Shiv Malik, “The Isis papers: Leaked documents show how Isis building its state,” Guardian, December 7, 2015.

[51] Martin Williams, “Dozens of Fighters Are Defecting from the Islamic State. Here’s Why,” Washington Post, September 21, 2015; Schmitt and Sengupta, “Thousands Enter Syria.” See also J. Diamond, “Congressional Report: U.S. Has ‘Failed’ to Stop Flow of Foreign Fighters to ISIS,” CNN.com, September 30, 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/29/politics/foreign-fighters-isis-congressional-task-force-report/index.html; Erin Cunningham, “The Flow of Jihadists into Syria Dries Up as Turkey Cracks Down on the Border,” Washington Post, August 1, 2015; David Brunnstrom, “U.S., Turkey Working to Finish Shutting Northern Syria Border: Kerry,” Reuters, November 17, 2015.

[52]Baghdadi, “The Khilafa Publications.”See also Ensor, “Islamic State leader Baghdadi Goads West.”

18-03-2016

About the author:

Fawaz A. Gerges is Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and holder of the Emirates Professorship in Contemporary Middle East Studies. He was also the inaugural Director of the LSE Middle East Centre from 2010 until 2013. Gerges’ most recent books are: Contentious Politics in the Middle East: Popular Resistance and Marginalised Activism beyond the Arab Uprisings; The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World; and Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment? On the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, Oxford University Press released Gerges’ book, The Rise and Fall of Al Qaeda.

Source: Foreign Policy Journal

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“Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate” (A book review)



ISIL Army

The Islamic State has presented to the global community a new extent of cruelty and barbarity with enormous and dangerous destabilizing impacts on regional as well as global levels. This jihadist group is associated with beheadings, the burgeoning of sexual slavery, crucifixions, the annihilation of Christian and Yazidi groups. Its strong reliance on online propaganda and focus on digital technology add power and strength to this organization. Given ISIS’s militant capabilities, limitless brutality, pervasive ideological foundation, and territorial outreach (online and ground), this group is an imminent threat to peace and stability not only within the Middle East, but for every member of the world community. Abdel Bari Atwan’s volume seeks to explain ISIS’s success in terms of its approach to social media.

9780520289284This book is a good resource for students, enthusiastic readers, policy makers, academic and professional circles. Being a widely known journalist, Abdel Bari Atwan relies on his informants as a source of information for this book. Conducting numerous interviews and online personal correspondence not only provide insight on the problem but make this study unique.

Abdel Bari Atwan’s book offers answers to the following crucial questions: What is the nature of this jihadi organization? How is its propaganda machine functioning? What are the central principals of the ISIS online strategy? What are its purposes and how does the Islamic State fulfill them using the Internet? What are the reasons behind propagandist campaigns? How are the Islamic States different from their ancestors?   The study presents a big picture of the ISIS phenomenon in a way that has never previously been captured.

Chapter 1 depicts ISIS’s online appearance and strategy. Considering this group as the most dangerous result of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri heritage, the author stresses that   the presence of ISIS in cyberspace and the exploitation of digital communication technologies are behind its successful territorial expansion, worldwide recruitment, and mobilization. Many Islamist groups from the remote areas of our planet, have announced their allegiance to the Islamic State through the internet by posting video messages on popular social networks. Moreover, this overwhelming reliance on the Internet allows ISIS militants to diminish the effectiveness of intelligence services as well as oppositional jihadist groups. Abdel Bari Atwan underlines an interesting paradox between the use of modern technologies and ISIS’s ideological agenda. This jihadist group merges its idea of the return to ancient mores as a society foundation and the use of the most sophisticated theologies to advance this Middle Age societal model. To create and entrench the attractive image of the Islamic State, its cyber teams produce and channel the unstoppable and consistent “stream of information”. A principle of informational consistence is crucial, even in terms of the usage of particular notions such as kufrs (deniers), crusaders, etc.

Chapters 2 through 6 of the work examine the main stages of ISIS’s establishment as an organizational entity and the ideological polarization within the jihadist movement. With the deepening of the ideological disagreement, the influx of radical members to ISIS increased. The upsurge of ISIS’s popularity is directly connected to Baghdadi’s personality, his inherent “boldness, defiance, steadfastness, and reputation as a clever battlefield strategist”. Abdel Bari Atwan explains its first military success by the utterly savage and barbaric content of its online campaign which was full of images and footage of scenes of beheadings, executions, suicide missions, etc. This propaganda had pervasive psychological effects on people and forces that might question ISIS’s power, allowing its militants onward march to take over many territories without resistance.

Chapters 7 and 8 describe the administrative apparatus that governs ISIS held territories. Based on IS informational sources, the author explains the caliphate’s inner institutional system and policymaking mechanisms. The apparatus allows ISIS’s leadership not only to control and manage new territories, including big cities, but to expand its geographical boundaries. Sustainable governance is provided by a wide net of police units, sharia courts, municipal services, gas supplies, and public health and educational facilities. In the eyes of local residents, this strong grip over the previous corrupt and ineffective government looks very promising. As a result, the Islamic State receives considerable public support from the local population.

Chapter 9 examines the main features of ISIS’s recruitment strategy through the phenomenon of foreign fighters (males and females). Drawing om conducted interviews with foreign militants, the author concludes that motivations for traveling to ISIS held areas range “from mundane explanations, speaking of “ordinary life” being “boring” to wanting to fight “like in video games.” Many volunteers, in particular who take entire families, are attracted by economic perspectives and the promise of high wages.   For females, one of the main forces to join ISIS, is Islamophobia, because of the visibility of traditional Muslim garb. Despite the fact that every international conflict raises the fears of foreign fighters, the problem of returning fighters cannot be underestimated. The unique nature of the Islamic State and its ideological appeal makes returning fighters very dangerous for their home states. Abdel Bari Atwan projects more coordinated bombing attacks in the Western countries.

Chapters 10 and 11 explore the role of the United States, Britain, and Saudi Arabia for the burgeoning of the Islamic State. Through a historical perspective, the author evaluates American and Great Britain’s poorly calculated manipulations on the international stage, which ended up with substantial support and resulted in the arming of different regional militant groups.

Finally, the author does an admirable job in clarifying many crucial issues about ISIS’s origin, evolution, and structural hierarchy. However, little attention is given to academic or governmental informational sources. The book falls short on the promise made in the title “Digital Caliphate”: there is no in-depth analysis of ISIS propaganda content and its regional ramifications, online radicalization and methods of online crowdsourcing.


By Julia Sweet

Source: Modern Diplomacy

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Kosovo is not Serbia’s Kurdistan, but Balkan’s IS/Daesh



Bagra Kosova

In the article “Kurdistan – Turkey’s Kosovo” Prof. Sotirović compared different aspects of Turkish Kurdistan case to the Kosovo one, found some parallels and pointed out Turkey’s hypocrisy.

While Prof. Sotirović is right in his assessment that Turkey is hypocritical to say at least, he failed to expose the fundamental differences between Kurdistan and Kosovo. His article contains some inaccuracies, misinterpretations and lacks in detail. Such an imprecise comparison may lead a reader who is not familiar with Balkans to acquire a false impression. A reader might come to conclusion that Kosovo Albanians had experienced the same level of suffering and injustice as did the Kurds which later led them to rebellion. That would seriously mislead the readers.

To substantiate this view let’s point out few errors in the article in question.

Status of the minority

 Stubborn reluctance of any kind of the Turkish government to recognize the Kurdish separate existence as the ethnic group of its own specific language and culture…

The Turkish rejection to recognize a minority status of the Kurds with granting a national-cultural or political autonomous status for Turkey’s Kurdistan…

Ankara’s discrimination and oppressive anti-Kurdish policy led finally to the establishment of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK) in 1978 for the sake to fight for unrecognized the Kurdish minority rights

Albanians were in a completely opposite situation. Its ethnic minority in Yugoslavia was recognized. Their language was recognized too. Albanians did have their ethnic state, Albania, while Kurds never enjoyed such privilege. Besides, Albanian minority had their own unique ethnic university in Kosovo since 1969 (no Western “democracies” have ever allowed its minorities to establish universities).

In 1974, to appease endless Albanian minority irredentism and their sporadic violence, the Yugoslav government carved out a part of historic Serbian land of Kosovo as Albanian autonomous province (this act can be compared to Khrushchev’s selfish donation of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954).

Nevertheless, Albanians, inspired by anti-Yugoslav circles in the West, renewed disorders in 1981 demanding federalization. Please take note that 1981 was long before strongman Milosevic appeared. In fact, Milosevic rose to power in 1989 promising people that he would put an end to Albanian violence in Kosovo.

So if we compare humiliated Kurds in Turkey and privileged Albanians prior to their insurgency in 1981, we must say the two cases are fundamentally different.

The bellicose component

… the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] – a typical terrorist organization as a replica of the PKK, the IRA, the ETA or the Hezbollah.

This is implicitly wrong. KLA is a paramilitary wing of deeply-rooted Albanian mafia (for better understanding of the history, nature and cultural background of Albanian mafia please read very insightful Jana Arsovska’s article “Gender-based subordination and trafficking of women in ethnic Albanian context. The upward revaluation of the Kanun morality” [Journal of Moving Communities, vol.6, No.1, May 2006]).

This new brand name, Kosovo Liberation Army, was coined for mere propaganda purposes. The intent was to give a false impression to the western audience that the US-backed project was actually a fight for someone’s freedom, which, if true, would be a legitimate cause. KLA (read Albanian mafia) was armed, trained, and injected into Yugoslavia by CIA. They still keep supporting it up-to-date in its citadel of Kosovo.

By contrast, the name of Kurdish Workers Party reflects the Marxist ideology of their leader. The name does not appear to have been fashioned to appeal to tastes of Western mainstream media propaganda consumers.

Number of victims

For the matter of comparison, during the Kosovo crisis in 1998−1999 both the West and the US saw the terror acts carried out only by Serbia’s government…

If we compare tens of thousands of obliterated and hundreds of thousands expelled Kurdish civilians in Turkey from 1978-present with the “terror acts carried out by Serbia’s government”, the picture will not be that impressive:

“One year later, the International War Crimes Tribunal, a body in effect set up by NATO, announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides, Serbs and Roma murdered by the Albanian KLA as well…” (John Pilger, Reminders of Kosovo)

In addition, can any of the following terror-related facts justify the struggle for self-determination?

“Indeed, even as Blair the war leader was on a triumphant tour of “liberated” Kosovo, the KLA was ethnically cleansing more than 200,000 Serbs and Roma from the province. Last February the “international community”, led by the US, recognized Kosovo, which has no formal economy and is run, in effect, by criminal gangs that traffic in drugs, contraband and women. But it has one valuable asset: the US military base Camp Bondsteel, described by the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner as “a smaller version of Guantanamo” (John Pilger, Don’t Forget Yugoslavia)

For the matters of accuracy, we should also remark that the state in 1999 was Yugoslavia, and not Serbia.

Guests on the land

… [Kurds are] the oldest population in Turkey living in Anatolia almost 3.000 years before the first (Seljuk) Turks came there at the end of the 11th century.

Opposite is the case of Kosovo Albanians. According to a Turkish census made in Kosovo in 1455 (!), there were 13,000 Serb households and only 46 Albanian there.

Since Kovoso Albanians obtained factual “independence” in 1999, they are busy desecrating, detonating and turning into rubble the unique medieval Serbian churches and monasteries throughout Kosovo. Only four of many Serbian monasteries in Kosovo are included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, but they are still endangered despite kind of protection from the international peacekeeping forces. Hundreds of other Serbian cultural sites there are subject to total elimination due to barbaric Albanian “self-determination”. In this sense Kosovo should be compared not to Kurdistan, but Daesh/ISIS.


By Elena BEKIC (Serbia)

Source: http://orientalreview.org/2016/03/28/kosovo-is-not-serbias-kurdistan-but-balkans-isdaesh/comment-page-1/#comment-2637755

kosovo demolishes serbian monasteries map   Map of Serbian churches and monasteries in Kosovo, demolished by Albanians as on March 2004.

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How Germany paved the way to the Kosovo War 1998-1999



Ixgrydi

By Matthias Küntzel (in 2000)

Contribution to the 2nd International Hearing of the European Tribunal concerning Nato’s war against Yugoslavia. Hamburg, April 16, 2000 [1]

7179549703_62c562e1a4_b_NATO-Serbia

In 1991, a delegation of the German Bundestag visited Kosovo for the first time in order to talk with Kosovo Albanian nationalist leaders. This prompted – as early as 1991! – the warning by a senior member of the Yugoslavian parliament that “the British and the Germans would create a common intervention force with 70,000 soldiers in order to intervene in Kosovo.” [2] Indeed an early and accurate prophecy! So what about Germany’s role in preparing for the Kosovo war?

There were and there are strategic differences between German and the US policies about how to retain or enhance hegemony. “As a wealthy status quo power, the United States has an interest in maintaining international order”, wrote Joseph S. Nye, Jr, a former US deputy secretary of defense. “In a world where there are some two hundred states but many thousands of often overlapping entities that might eventually make a claim to nationhood, blind promotion of self-determination would have highly problematic consequences.” [3] Berlin, however, in seeking to create conditions for an ongoing expansion of German influence (that means: changing the international order) does not share this priority. As Rupert Scholz, the former German secretary of defense, explained: “The aim of maintaining “stability” in Europe seems to be a most dangerous one. There will not be any real stablity, which is able to maintain peace, if individual nations are held prisoner in unwanted and unnatural (“unnatürliche”) state organizations, which have been imposed upon them.” Since 1990, German foreign policy has “constantly persisted in activly advocating a universal right of self-determination.” [4]

This policy has a particular bearing on Kosovo. The hidden war about Kosovo’s future started in 1995 at the latest. In February 1995 in the presence of Roman Herzog, Germany’s President at that time, Germany and Albania signed a common declaration of principle at Tirana. This declaration is rarely mentioned in the literature but nevertheless decisive because it promised to find a “solution to the Kosovo question” by advocating the right of self-determination for Kosovo’s Albanians. [5] Advocating self-determination for Kosovo´s Albanians, however, meant advocating their right to secede from Yugoslavia. This declaration was in so far a kind of advance notice to continue Germany’s 1991 course (recognition of Croatia) in order to further split up Yugoslavia following a racist (völkisch) concept of self-determination.

In the period following, the German goverment did everything it could to spur on the separation of Albanians within Kosovo. Germany supported and financed those nationalists who sought to pursue the goal of full independence by creating alternative governing institutions as well as independent Albanian educational and medical systems in Kosovo which systematically separated the majority of the people in Kosovo from the other peoples of Yugoslavia. In addition, German secret diplomacy was instrumental in helping the “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA), as they call themselves, since its creation in February 1996. The daily newspaper “The European” stated that “German civil and military intelligence services have been involved in training and equipping the rebels with the aim of cementing German influence in the Balkan area.” [6]

During those years, Germany unilaterally supported the secessionist movements. In 1997 editor Johann Georg Reißmüller of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (a German daily newspaper) wrote: “The US government is not at all happy with Germany’s policy in Kosovo”.

It was, however, exactly that year – 1997 – that the crisis in Kosovo began to escalate. After the destruction of the Albanian army arsenals the KLA armed itself in order to start a large-scale nationalist rebellion. This development and the following counter-attack by the Serbian police moved Kosovo into the headlines and into the focal point of NATO’s considerations. How did Germany and the United States react?

“The Clinton administration is still uncertain about how to deal with this crisis”, later wrote the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. A senior official from the German foreign office was sent to Washington to put pressure on the deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott. “We urgently need U.S. leadership now” claimed Germany’s emissary. [7] This pattern: Germany calls for the U.S. government – actually for a special wing of the U.S government – to act against Yugoslavia were repeated between March 1998 and March 1999 over and over again. Let us now take a closer look at that pre-war diplomacy which paved the way to war.

The US government is responsible for most of the war crimes NATO committed against Yugoslavia. But even in 1998, the Clinton administration – split in several fractions on how to deal with Milosevic and the Kosovo Albanians’ nationalism – hesitated, reacting uncertainly on a case-by-case basis, oscillating between supporting the KLA and letting Milosevic have a free hand in smashing them. Germany on the other hand knew what to do and how to act. The grand design of Germany’s Kosovo policy had been in effect by March 1998. It was revealed by Germany’s informal ambassador to the Balkans, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who on March 16, 1998 said: “We should try to tell Milosevic the plain truth through pressure and even military interventions that he can retain control over Kosovo as a part of Yugoslavia only if certain fundamentals are met. And if this is not the case, the territory there will have to be transformed into a kind of protectorate until those fundamentals are provided for.” [8]

This idea of pushing the Kosovo´s Albanians towards a military confrontation with Milosevic in order to create a Kosovo protectorate from now on became the central point of Germany’s Kosovo policy – either by the Kohl/Kinkel CDU government or the Schröder/Fischer SPD-Green coalition. One condition was that international troops be stationed on Kosovo soil. As early as March 1998 Germany accordingly put this matter on the agenda at the London meeting of the international Contact Group on Yugoslavia. [9]

The other condition was that Nato would have to enter Kosovo against the will of the Yugoslav government. Accordingly, Germany sharpened its tone towards Belgrad. Milosevic became the main target and remained so whatever his policy looked like.

But France, the UK, Italy and the dominating voices within the US government still prefered to follow a less confrontational policy. In 1998, The European for example stated that “Washington realised that pushing the Kosovars towards a military confrontation with Milosevic, as the Germans wanted to do, would have a boomerang effect on the Balkans. The United States put maximum pressure on Germany to stop supporting the KLA behind the scenes, as did the other European countries such as Britain and France.” [10] They termed the KLA activities “terrorist” and supported indirectly a Serbian counteroffensive against the KLA during the summer of 1998 and appealed to Milosevic and the moderate Albanian leader Rugova to begin talks. The KLA, however, succeeded in provoking the Serbian police force and in escalating armed clashes time and again. The policy of de-escalation turned out to be a permanent failure as long as there was a continuity in the supply of KLA weapons and KLA mercenaries across the Albanian border.

It was therefore not at all surprising that in the summer of 1998 all the efforts of the United Nations and the majority of Nato countries (including the US) concentrated in the goal of cutting off the arms and soldiers supplies in favor of the KLA. The Albanian government headed by Fatos Nano who had disassociated himself from the KLA supported this plan. Inside NATO the idea of sending 7000 soldiers to cut off the traffic in weapons began to take shape.

During this crucial situation,however, Germany’s covering up for the KLA became both public and evident: The German government vetoed the cutting-off of the supply of weapons for the KLA! Klaus Kinkel, then head of the German foreign office said: “Of course you have to consider whether you are permitted from a moral and ethnical point of view to prevent the Kosovo-Albanians from buying weapons for their self-defense.” [11] Volker Rühe, then head of the ministry of defense answered to this consideration with an unequivocal No: “You cannot resolve the Kosovo conflict by sending troops to Albania to seal the border and thus be acting in favor of Milosevic.” [12] Rühe’s message was quiete clear: everyone who tries to seal the border in order to find a peaceful solution is taking sides with Milosevic. In order to disassociate yourself from Milosevic you have to escalate the war between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs by delivering more and more weapons to the KLA!

This open German solidarity with the KLA has been as much an isolated provocation as has the recognition of Tudjman’s Croatia in 1991, 50 years after the formation of the first Croatian state under the rule of the fascist Ustashi regime.

Just like 1991 Germany again stood nearly alone against a huge majority of countries in Europe and the world. Just like 1991 Germany again supported a movement with a background rooted in the Nazi past, because the KLA is partly led by the sons and grandsons of extreme right-wing Albanian fighters, the heirs of those who fought during World War II in the fascist militias and the “Skanderbeg Volunteer SS Division” raised by the Nazis. [13] The “National Front of Albania” (Balli Kombetar) which collaborated with Nazi leaders in 1943/44 today boasts about its influence within the KLA which has a program that seems to be a modified version of the 1943 Nazi utopia.

Thus the program of “ethnic cleansing” which Germany exported into the Balkans in 1941 remained alive within the movement of the Kosovo Albanian nationalists during the 80s. “The nationalists have a two-point platform” wrote the New York Times in 1982: “First to establish what they call an ethnically clean Albanian republic and then the merger with Albania to form a greater Albania.” [14] Whenever the KLA talks about “liberation” or “freeing” this has been up to now understood in the Nazi-sense of “free of something” i.e. “free of Jews” (“judenfrei”), “free of Gypsies” or “free of Serbs”. Noone could be really surprised when, beginning with June 1999, the de facto rule of the KLA turned out to be a daily and a deadly trap for thousands of non-Albanians, especially defenceless Serbs.

In the summer of 1998 Germany and the USA took not only opposite but conflicting sides: While the USA – in the words of General Shelton, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – has had “concerns about the techniques that are being used to put down, to squelch the uprising” [15] Germany on the other hand acted as the protective power for the KLA. This confrontation includes a strategic conflict within NATO: Is the Atlantic Alliance supposed to help or to hinder the KLA? Should NATO as the KLA’s airforce contribute to the revision of state borders and the further diminishing of Yugoslavia? Or is the alliance bound to clap down on such a type of militant secessionism?

6305047146_8f7274d9ee_NATO-Serbia

It was Germany’s insistence and the ignorance or thirst for adventure within the leadership of the other NATO powers that brought the world’s biggest military alliance eventually in favor of the Albanian nationalists. Germany has “given evidence of its prepareness to lead” praised the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine. [16] Now Germany once again took the lead in pressing for military intervention in Kosovo. The New York Times reported: “German officials seem increasingly inchined towards charting a military course to stop the violence in Kosovo.” [17] Indeed. “Mr. Kinkel threatens with a Nato intervention in Kosovo” proclaimed the headlines of German papers on June 5, 1998. “The United States, unlike Germany, rejects a snap decision about a military intervention”, wrote Frankfurter Allgemeine the following day. Volker Rühe was the first government official in Europe who as early as June 15, 1998 spoke in favor of a strike against Yugoslavia even without a UN Security Council green light. This suggestion played havoc with not only the UN Charter but also with the German constitution and the Treaty of Moscow concerning German unification. This proposal was later taken up positively by the USA. We have to conclude, therefore, that Germany is not only guilty of committing the crimes which are connected with the US-led bombing of Yugoslavia, but is responsible for ardently working towards triggering this war. The German concept for Kosovo includes the following:

  1. to make a stand against the Yugoslav government
  2. unlimited support for the Kosovo Albanian nationalists who demand independence and a lasting unification with Albania
  3. to demand for air-strikes against Yugoslavia in order to achieve a NATO protectorate for Kosovo which is supposed to be only an interim step towards the independence of Kosovo.

Strategic differences between German and the US policies diminished considerably in 1999 when the Clinton administration decided to go to war in favor of the ultra-secessionist KLA. They seem to gain, however, new weight in the post-war debate about the final status of Kosovo. US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright recently rejected the idea of creating a greater Albania, whereas German policy seems to be pushing in the opposite direction.

Karl Lamers, the influential CDU foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition in the Bundestag said about the transformation of Kosovo into a NATO protectorate that this is “only the first step towards the separation of Kosovo from Yugoslavia” and that an independent Kosovo will be “only an interim step to merging (“Anschluss”) with Albania.” [18] Recently, Lamers mentioned with great satisfaction “that everything we are actually doing in Kosovo, e. g. the creation of a new currency zone, is aimed at creating an independent Kosovo…”. [19] Even Germany’s red/green coalition government does not want to recognize Kosovo as being a province of Yugoslavia. That is the reason why in his last major statement Joschka Fischer – Germany’s vice-chancellor and secretary of state – let the question of “the future status of the Kosovo” open claiming that it would be impossible to resolve this now. In an interview with a French newspaper, however, he made clear that he had no doubts about the Kosovo’s future status: “The international community is present in Kosovo and the Balkans in order to show that – according to the example of resolving the ,German question’ in 1990 – the ,Albanian question’ could be resolved only with the agreement of the neighbouring states.” [20]

US government circles are quite aware of the ambitions of their rival, Germany. Zbigniew Brzezinski called the Berlin republic a “geostrategic main actor” and a “subversive big power inspired by an ambitious vision”. Strobe Talbott, the deputy secretary of state, characterized Germany as the seismic focal point of the current geopolitical earthquakes which are disrupting the Atlantic Alliance as well as the Balkans. He emphasized that Germany is “the epicentre of thoses processes – enlargement and expansion, extension and deepening.” [21]

Within the context of the war against Yugoslavia the other great powers, however, not only reacted to aggressive German moves but pursued their own special interests as well. The United States wanted to retain its influence in Europe, to strengthen a worldwide role for NATO and to weaken Russias influence within the new world order. Great Britain und France were eager to demonstrate their military superiority over Germany and wanted to give a starting signal for the establishing of an independent European intervention force (together with Germany) vis-a-vis the USA. Each of these nations is a rival to the others and is trying to retain or achieve as much influence and power as possible. The war against Yugoslavia has been the first, however, to be spurred on by Germany as an attempt to redesign current world order after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This war has put the irrational elements and the destructive roots of capitalistic societies into a new light.

(Not published)
———————————————————————————————

NOTES:

[1] This contribution is a short description of a broader study: Matthias Küntzel, Der Weg in den Krieg. Deutschland, die Nato und das Kosovo, Elefanten Press, Berlin 2000. The author’s e-mail address: mail@matthiaskuentzel.de.

[2] This warning was published in the Yugoslavian journal Polityka; see the minutes of the Bundestag meeting June 16, 1991, pp. 2560-1.

[3] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Redefining the National Interest, Foreign Affairs Vol.78 No.4, July/August 1999 pp. 22-35.

[4] See Rupert Scholz, Das Festhalten an ungewollten Staaten schafft keine Stabilität, in: Die Welt, December 12, 1991; Rupert Scholz, Das Selbstbestimmungsrecht und die deutsche Politik, in: Internationale Politik 4/1995, S.51.

[5] “Deutschland und Albanien … bekräftigen das Recht aller Völker, frei und ohne Einmischung von außen ihr Schicksal zu bestimmen und ihre politische, wirtschaftliche, soziale und kulturelle Entwicklung nach eigenem Wunsch zu gestalten.” This declaration is published in the Archiv der Gegenwart, March 13, 1995, pp. 39819-20.

[6] Roger Fallgot, How Germany Backed KLA, in: The European, 21-27 September 1998. See for more details M. Küntzel, Der Weg in den Krieg pp. 59-64.

[7] See Die Zeit, May 12, 1999.

[8] Christian Schwarz-Schilling, March 16, 1999, Deutschlandradio, quoted in: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung, Stichworte zur Sicherheitspolitik, April 1998, p. 47.

[9] Russia, the USA, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany are members of this informal but influential group.

[10] Roger Fallgot, ibid.

[11] Interview with Klaus Kinkel, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, July 30, 1998.

[12] Mr. Rühe is quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, June 9, 1998.

[13] See Chris Hedges, Kosovo´s Next Masters? in: Foreign Affairs, Vol.78, No.3, May/June 1999, pp.24-42. “Although never much of a fighting force, the Skanderbeg Division took part in the shameful roundup and deportation of the province´s few hundred Jews during the Holocaust. … The decision by KLA commanders to dress their police in black fatigues and order their fighters to salute with a cleched fist to the forehead has led many to worry about these fascist antecedents.” (ibid.)

[14] See Marvine Howe, Exodus of Serbians Stirs Province in Yugoslavia, New York Times July 12, 1982.

[15] See New York Times, June 16, 1998.

[16] See Frankfurter Allgemeine, September 26, 1998.

[17] See New York Times, June 10, 1998.

[18] See the minutes of the Bundestag parliamentary session of April 15, 1999.

[19] See the minutes of the Bundestag parliamentary session of April 5, 2000.

[20] See Le Monde March 25, 2000, emphasis by the author.

[21] See Frankfurter Allgemeine, February 5, 1999.


Original source of the article:

http://www.matthiaskuentzel.de/contents/germany-and-the-kosovo

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Coming home to roost: Kosovo sees return of locals who fought for Daesh



Kosovo ISIL Ridvan Haqifi and Lavdrim Muhaxheri

At least 120 natives of Kosovo have returned home during the last few years after taking part in the ongoing hostilities in Syria on the side of Daesh (ISIL), according to local police reports.

Milovan Drecun, chairman of the Serbian parliamentary Committee on Kosovo-Metohija, told Sputnik that these former militants may establish ties with local political extremists, thus further exacerbating the current volatile situation in Pristina. He pointed out that ties already exist between the jihadists and certain Albanian organized crime groups, as well as former militants of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – a terrorist group that was officially disbanded but still exists.

“These ties were established back in the 1990s, after Osama bin Laden visited Albania,” Drecun said. “In the meantime, radical Islamists strengthened their position in Kosovo, even gaining a certain degree of independence. We know about their contacts with the former commanders of the KLA and Kosovo Protection Corps as well as with members of Drenica Group (Drenicka grupa), a criminal organization run by Hashim Thaci.”

Drecun added that on numerous occasions, he has warned about the existence of a well-organized, trained and supplied ‘base’ of radical Islamism, jihadism and terrorism in the Balkans. So far, however, this ‘base’ was mostly used as a source of recruits for the terrorist groups.

“The presence of former Daesh militants in Balkans is a potential security threat and hints at the possibility of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings,” Drecun said.

Monah na rusevinama crkve
He added that while the current situation in Balkans remains more or less stable, Daesh militants have already listed the region and Serbia in particular among their targets during their latest video address.

It is only a matter of time before Daesh becomes ‘active’ in the Balkans, Drecun said.

Residents of the so-called Kosovo republic are statistically more likely to fight for Daesh than any European nation; The Telegraph reports that just one town of 30,000, Kacanik, managed to send two dozen local men to join Daesh’s dubious cause. The inefficient local authorities, ailing economy and soaring unemployment make this territory a fertile source of recruits for terrorist organizations.

Original source of the article: http://sputniknews.com/europe/20151202/1031128207/balkans-daesh-militants.html#ixzz3tBKY5w2i

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