As I documented in my previous post, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's Syria branch, whose parent Iraqi branch came to an end in August 2014 after most of its members gave allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) with the remainder quitting the field, appears to have had a two-way split reflected in a war between Twitter accounts. The Syria branch's previous official Twitter account- @ansarulsham- is claiming the dissolution of the group and allegiance to IS following the real example of Iraq, while @ansarulislam_sh claims to be the new official Twitter account of the Syria branch and denies allegiance to IS, saying that @ansarulsham has been hijacked. The question is which account represents the majority, and if it's @ansarulsham, whether that means the end of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Syria too. My conclusion so far has been that some serious defections have likely occurred but the schism is not fatal to those wanting to retain the group's separate identity. This post will document the ongoing evidence emerging from the Twitter wars between @ansarulsham and @ansarulislam_sh, and will accordingly be updated when necessary.
As of today, the latter account is promising a statement on how @ansarulsham got hijacked. @ansarulsham has just responded:
"Expect a visual release of the 'Ansar al-Khilafa' camp for the group before the blessed pledge of allegiance. No one has remained from the group except those who followed their preference and wanted to separate from the group [i.e. the bulk that pledged allegiance]. So they have begun to stir up lies and doubts such as Abu Khateeb who fled to Turkey from the lands of the Dawla [IS] with its banner, and with the thinnest hope is the one who left the land of Islam and escaped to the land of kufr [disbelief] and makes attacks and curses. He and others whom we do not wish to mention by name assert that the group is its own thing. We assert that the group with its amir and amirs of its divisions have given allegiance...And whoever venerates names, adopts them and adopts them as a goal, we did not come to this state of affairs previously for reason of these closed minds. And we thank God that he has guided us to this state...It suffices and satisfies us that we are based in the land of the Caliphate and see the Shari'a of God ruling over our necks. We also bear arms, head out with might, and fight the enemies of the religion to the objection of the cursers and doubters based in the shadow of the Tawagheet [forces of idolatrous tyranny] and tweet and curse the upright manhaj [direction/program]: the manhaj of implementing the rule of the law of the Lord of the Worlds."
Update (11 January)
The Twitter account @ansarulislam_sh responds with a new full statement. I would note the following:
1. The statement is disingenuous regarding the obvious question of why there have been no new media releases from Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's Iraq branch since August 2014. It gives a more generic explanation of a reduction in media profile for the group as a whole (no distinction made as regards branches, which is of course the group's ideal). Yet one may then ask why there was an Eid al-Adha media release from the Syrian branch but nothing from the Iraq branch, with the latter's silence on that matter breaking a tradition spanning years.
2. The statement somewhat misrepresents the August 2014 statement put out in the name of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam by Islamic State loyalists claiming dissolution of the group: that did not apply to Jamaat Ansar al-Islam as a whole but rather was just claiming dissolution of the Iraq branch and urged the Syrian branch to follow its example. Theoretically of course, the brand still exists, but when the overwhelming majority of its members have pledged allegiance and the remnant who have not pledged have quit the field, with many of them actually residing in the Kurdistan Regional Government-controlled Kirkuk city, then it has ceased to exist for all intents and purposes. In this context, note the testimony of one of those remnant guys- Abu Bakr al-Iraqi- who had previously told me some 90% of the group in Iraq had pledged allegiance, but recently added to another person that "inside Kirkuk [city] which IS did not enter, pledges of allegiance en masse/in groups have not taken place."
3. Therefore, this back and forth does not change my prior analysis as of 8 January. The Iraqi branch has effectively ceased to exist for now but the Syrian branch still survives. In this back and forth, each side is simply pushing its own partisan narrative. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Below is my preliminary translation of the statement.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam
Central Media Administration.
19 Rabi al-Awal/10 January 2015
Statement for the people
In this critical time in the history of the Ummah in which the external and internal enemy has gathered with all its ranks against the Muslims, the fair observer finds that every just, agreeable Muslim is full of eagerness and interest in lightening, even if by a simple bit, the burden of oppression on them from eviction, forced displacement and death from the cold in the refugee camps.
And we as the group of Ansar al-Islam had previously announced that we would reduce the media presence and issuing of statements for reasons that concern us and that we would focus on operational aspects...for the service of Islamic work generally and jihad in particular. And we were determined not to preoccupy ourselves with responses and media controversies and especially in that regard what serves the enemies' interest and increases division and separation among the Muslims and especially the companies who are the fuel of jihad, the support of the Ummah, and the ansar [supporters/partisans] of this religion, except that some compel us to go out of our silence such that we must issue a clarification and respond. And in that regard there is the jamaat ad-dawla ['group of the state'- i.e. IS, not recognizing its claims to statehood- cf. Jabhat al-Nusra], and that is because of their putting out false statements every now and then that Jamaat al-Ansar has pledged allegiance to them, that the group has dissolved itself, and that this is the group's last statement.
Although it is no new thing from the following of the people in the matter that we have attacked this sort of talk from them since the beginning of 2005 after the occupation of Iraq with their claims that Jamaat al-Ansar has come to an end and no one has remained, all the way until today, for once we hear that the group has come to an end and another time that it had pledged allegiance- and this was recently and not the last time in the month of Shuwwal 1435 AH/August 2014. And at that time they claimed that the ansar had given allegiance to the Dawla [IS], had dissolved their own group and confirmed this statement as the last of their releases.
And we affirm with certainty that the one near and far should know that these words are falsehoods, and especially anyone who knows the ansar and the manhaj of the ansar, having counted and heard of the number of statements of allegiance of the ansar to the Dawla, the falseness of those claims should be clear to him as well as their inconsistency, but they have no respect for the intelligence of their readers but also they show disdain for whoever follows them and reads about them and for them.
And the surprising thing from the disturbance of the people is that the ansar who had been judged by them [i.e. IS] as apostate Sahwa are also the ansar of bida' [innovation: a pejorative], with receptions and welcome celebrations held for them when some of those people pledge allegiance- and such events are publicised with the use of media deceit to inflate the numbers. But also attending these events and pledging allegiance in front of the cameras are those whom no one from the group knows and have never been among the ansar for one day. So the strange thing- and it's not strange- for the people is that those who had been judged the apostates yesterday have become their brothers today by nothing more than a pledge of allegiance, as though the pledge must translate to their reception.
Indeed this matter has revealed something: namely, the power of the truth that the ansar bear as well as the soundness of their manhaj, while they [the IS guys] believe from the defect within them both that their version of Shari'a will not be fulfilled especially in Iraq except by destroying Ansar al-Islam, and that there must also be the deliberate exaggeration of the allegiance of a group of members differing in their true numbers, whether more or less: and they [those members] are in part compelled, [and in part etc.] forced, wishing, hating, aware of their [IS'] evil, guarding their own lifeblood, leaving something behind for the ansar, sitting and refraining from jihad, and such people were with the Ansar one day two years ago. And [the intended result] is that anyone who sees the affair will think the Ummah has given them allegiance.
Verily we affirm to all the Muslims and the mujahideen of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam that the rumour of our allegiance to Jamaat ad-Dawla is completely divorced from reality. Further, the law, situation on the ground, the evidence, and the just of the Muslims and the Sunni mujahideen groups close to us and those among whom we live and whose interests and burdens we share and bear with them may bear witness that Jamaat al-Ansar is actually present on the ground.
And indeed the group has continued to adhere to the pledge on which its imams and leaders set out as well as those who shed blood under its banner and those who are confined in the prisons of the Tawagheet [idolatrous tyrants] and remain steadfast under the sting of the whips of the apostates and disbelievers, and enduring in the face of the oppression of the oppressors and the overlording of the forces of extremism from the people of aggression and arbitrariness. Further, the group has not ceased bearing the banner pure, clean and firm on the basis of what the Ummah of Islam has agreed on from the principles by God's permission.
And we give good tidings to all of them that we remain just as they have known us from before, and we are just as our Lord- exalted is He in the highest- has protected us by His favour, and we have not drifted or been pulled away to the projects of negligence during all these years despite the abundance of pressures, temptations, and the many offers to alleviate what had afflicted us from need and poverty. So by God's force and power, we will not be pulled away or enter into projects of negligence- the projects whose falsity the knowledgeable ulama' have borne witness against and that they are not binding on any of the Muslims. We are a people who follow and do not innovate.
And whatever portends- whether attraction or terrorizing- so long as it is not on the permissable Hanafi path that the Seal of the Prophet brought, [we will not follow it].
With the knowledge that this statement of ours is not for the members of the Dawla who have decided that all that doesn't suit them, they disavow and declare to be false, even if it is nothing but the truth. And what doesn't come to them from their side, they are deaf and blind to it, even if it is true and the just ulama' have said it is so, they who have most authority on the matter on the basis of the authority of their tafsir [interpretation of the Qur'an etc.]. and those to whose imamates the Ummah has borne witness.
Rather this statement of ours is for whosoever is interested in our affairs, asks about us, is concerned about our state of affairs, follows our news, and supports us such that he should require evidence and certainty of our situation. And it is for them lest they should be played, deceived, and believe the rumours, falsehoods and lies our enemies publish, for we are not the first about whom lies and falsehoods have been spread or the first to have been the subject of media campaign attacks...And he has spoken truthfully: he who has said that these people have brought the evil of separation and division on all the Ahl al-Sunna and they have not abandoned anything from that but have surpassed them in new qualities and descriptions that have not been mentioned in the writings of division and have abandoned most of the positive aspects regarding division.
But also included is this ugly, contemptible matter and dangerous precedent that the enemies of Islam have not done until today- that is, the fact that they [the IS guys] claim something on the basis of credibility- when it also means entering into the groups' account, hijacking it, and distributing the statements against the group for the interests of the Dawla, with the rest of them silent and confirmation of it, from people claiming guardianship over the Ummah and that they have the right of obedience from all and publishing it in their releases. Is this the lie against the whole Islamic Ummah with the claim that the Ansar had given them allegiance and the hijacking of their official account? Does this deed enter into the realm of politics that war is deception? Are the Muslims the targets of this deception? Does not attributing to the speaker what he did not say constitute blatant slander against him just as the people of 'Ilm [Islamic knowledge] have determined? Do not lying and falsehood constitute a downfall for justice, a hole for nobleness, and an obstacle to the acceptance of witness/testimony? And does not the principle of sincerity and truthfulness in the Muslim rest on word and deed? Or are we in a time of giving credibility to the one who lies and declaring to be a liar one who tells the truth?
Do not people have eyes and minds by which they can determine truth from falsehood? Should affinity with God- Exalted is He- and striving to realize His religion employ deception and delusion against the servants of God- Almighty and Exalted is He?
Indeed we should thank God who has blessed us with enlightenment about the manhaj of the people from their words, actions, deeds, and behaviour. If they had any guidance or a rightly-guided man among them, they would condemn this clear wicked deed, their perpetration and confirmation of it, and subsequent silence about it. And it is thanks to God that we have made clearer the evil of their action and we are more certain of our case against it.
And to clarify the situation more we submit the following points for the fair, generous reader, and our mujahideen brothers of the group:
1. We are companions of a cause in which we believe and we believe and trust in what we bear from Truth/Righteousness- and we do not claim it is limited to us alone- but we work on the basis of the manhaj of the noble predecessors. And we do not get distracted with a 'he said this, he said that' affair and everything that is said. And we will not be pulled into or descend to the level of whoever wants such things and does not have the credibility that he has lost, and others besides him, and those who do not refrain from the evil of what they do. And indeed it is a part of our religion and a sign of the just Sunni that he abandons quarrelling and dispute and preoccupies himself with justice and development.
2. It is with our words and confirmation that we affirm that we have not given allegiance to anyone. We bless and support any project that serves the society of the Ummah and realizes unity- unity of the hearts before the bodies- provided it is imbued with the precepts of legitimacy/law- the book and the Sunna in the understanding of the primordial ones- and the people of 'Ilm and justice have borne witness to it and given their support to it and that is not excised from our path- i.e. any preparation for unity- except a denier of the truth. And whoever has pondered and followed the path of the Ansar with the passing of the stages from the establishment until today, let him see it visually.
3. We inform and make clear to all who want to know our stance about the Dawla and pledging allegiance to it: we have kept silent about this matter all this time on account of observance of the attack of the Rafidites [Shi'a] and others besides them on the Sunni areas, except that they have refused to continue to allow us to remain silent about what we believe in this matter. Thus, we say first of all that it is from the manhaj of the Ansar that we have not, do not and will not deviate from the Ummah, especially the working 'ulama whose imamate has been acknowledged as the masters of the speech of truth and clear statement in any controversy that comes upon the Muslims [...]
If we had said that we are among the most knowledgeable and enlightened of the people about the Dawla, the conduct of their leaders and their direction, we would not have avoided what is right. And it is from God's preference towards us that we are the first to have warned about what is the problem with their affairs that people discovered later on and after the wounds grew great. And our correspondances have not ceased with many of the good who were deceived by them at one time- with whosoever nourished them, gave them Shari'a legitimacy, killed us with the sword of letters of support for them until it finally dawned on them that they are just what we were warning about previously and they did not back then lend us their ears. And most of the messages have continued to be present until now.
Were people to return and read what we had said from the beginnings of the jihad in Iraq, they would think that we are speaking about the situation today and against it, and had we been prevented from meeting with them at that time we would not be knowing what we know about them and most besides us would be ignorant of it (for it is now impossible for us to meet with them as Jamaat al-Ansar and we are not talking about those members who went to them and defected- for they are on this own state of affairs they have and are determined to stick to what has been taken upon them)- that is, ignorant of how all the contemporary people of 'Ilm struck up a unique consensus of its type- rarely ever coming together with one voice on an issue like this issue- affirming that it is not permissable to join the Dawla, the impermissability of remaining with them and assisting them in their fight against the Muslims. The Almighty has said: 'Whoever opposes the messenger after guidance has been made clear to him, and follows a path other than that of the believers, We will give him what he has taken and drive him into Hell, and evil it is as a destination'- Qur'an 4:115.
This is Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's official decision and whoever leaves us and joins them, his words have no legitimacy for us whatsoever as he is known.
4. These rumours against the Ansar will not end so don't find most of them strange, especially above all from those who have left our ranks out of preference and flimsy reasons and unjustified legal reasons. It has become clear to us from following and studying their behaviour that the fire of their arbitrary whims will not go out and the Satan within them will not rest, and the evil defect of their deeds will not be covered as long as a heart beats and eye blinks in Jamaat al-Ansar, for they will not cease their efforts to curse, spread malice, create delusion and attempt to destroy the Ansar by any means they can. And we have clear witnesses and proofs as to what we say.
5. The lifespan of the lie is short, and the aversion of people, good disposition and nature mean there is no place for it even if it endures. And indeed deception of some of the people for some time is possible, but deceiving all the people and propagating untruth on them until the end is impossible, and especially on those who respect their minds and are not content with imitation, and their practice is the need for proof and clarity.
6. Righteousness is not known by men just as Ali- may God be pleased with him- said when al-Harith bin Haut al-Laythi opposed him after the battle of the Camel and the killing of Zubayr and Talha- may God be pleased with them. He said: "Do you think oh Amir al-Mu'mineen, that we think Zubayr and Talha- may God be pleased with them- were under shelter and are of the ten promised Paradise? So Ali, may God be pleased with him, said his well-known saying: "Oh Harith, you are possessed." Then he said: "Truth is not known my men but rather men are known for truth. Know truth recognizes its people.
What this means is that truth and falsehood are not derived from power and weakness, but rather from the book of God [Qur'an] and what His Messenger has explained.
And thus the Muslim is with Truth even if he passes through the stage of weakness with affliction, trial and test and he is not with falsehood even if he is powerful and strong. And whoever is like that is on the manhaj of Ibn Salul who became Muslim out of hypocrisy/lukewarmness after Badr when he saw the power of the Muslims, or on the manhaj of Pharaoh's people when they said 'Perhaps we will follow the magicians if they are dominant' [Qur'an 26:40], whereas the Muslim's manhaj is just as al-Fadeel (may God have mercy on him) said: "Be with truth even if the following is diminished, and shun falsehood even if loss increases. The necessity of remaining on the path of Tawheed is of the greatest mark of dignity."
7. It is among the marks of deceiving men and leading them into arbitrary whims to preoccupy oneself with Muslims established among the people of 'Ilm and the mujahideen, distract them, and draw them away from obedience with falsehood, dividing their word, and sowing disunity and hypocrisy among them.
We ask God- Almighty and Exalted is He- to relieve us from that and set us on the best conclusion possible.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam
Central Media Administration
19 Rabi al-Awal 1436 AH
10 January 2015
Update: 12 January: @ansarulislam_sh releases new photos of the group's presence in Aleppo province, which should settle the issue that the Syria branch has not dissolved.
Update (15 January): the @ansarulsham account responds to a series of ask.fm questions, largely just restating the claim of total allegiance to IS and providing no new lines of evidence to substantiate the supposed dissolution of the group in Syria.
Q: Are you allied to IS?
Q: Salam alaykum they've said your account on Twitter has been hijacked so has your ask.fm account been hijacked too? Hehehehe. I ask God to grant you steadfastness and may your work under allegiance to IS be successful.
A: Let them say what they say and we pledged allegiance thanks to God.
Q: What truth is there to your allegiance to IS?
A: The process of pledging allegiance to the Caliphate has been completed thanks to God and all pledged allegiance from: amir of the group, security official, military official, media official with 'Ansar Media', delegations and organization official [NB; though singular used, @ansarulsham presumably means all amirs, security officials etc.], with the number of members of the group at a ratio of 95% and thanks to God the Lord of the Worlds.
Q: Has the group in al-Sham pledged allegiance to the Dawla?
A: Yes it has pledged allegiance thanks to God.
Q: Why was another account for the group established and they said that this account is hijacked and they had not given allegiance to IS. I had seen some of the questions accusing you of not pledging allegiance and [claiming] if you had sought that you would have left Aleppo? Did you pull out before the allegiance?
A: After a great number of the leaders and members of the group pledged allegiance, some of the cursers and haters of IS separated and in their paucity claimed that they are the group but such are they with no group that they thought that with a strenuous and embellished statement they could convince the people that they are the group and that the account is hijacked. And it is well known who they are. They are the root cause of separation and lack of unity of the group with the IS for a long time. And we only see from what we have seen and heard from this account love of arbitrary whim and power. And God is the one from whom help should be sought.
Q: Is it possible for you to produce evidence to show that this account has not been hijacked and for those who continue to doubt the truth of the pledge of allegiance and the relation of the Jamaat al-Ansar account [..]?
A: We will publish a visual release for the group before the pledge of allegiance, after which one will be able to tell apart the truth-teller and the liar...
Update (22 January 2015): The account @ansarulsham, which has now dropped the Jamaat Ansar al-Islam flag and is using Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's portrait as its avatar along with the flag of IS as its display picture, has finally released the video it promised. The video in question purports to show the 'al-Qaa'qaa" training camp for Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Syria. This camp is said to have become the "Ansar al-Khilafa" camp with a pledge of allegiance to IS. Supposedly as a result of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam Syria's allegiance to IS, the video release from al-Ansar Media for the camp was cancelled, with the purported end of al-Ansar Media.
However, this narrative from @ansarulsham appears to be flawed. Those familiar with the history of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Syria will know that the 'al-Qaa'qaa" training camp was the name for the group's camp established in al-Hewel in eastern Hasakah province on the border with Iraq, thanks partly to the efforts of Abu Muhammad al-Muhajir who played a key role in expanding the group into Syria. Note this fact along with the apparent flat, desert landscape of the camp shown in the video, and it seems likely that this is what the video is showing. However, as even Jamaat Ansar al-Islam Syria had acknowledged by the autumn of 2014, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam Syria branch no longer existed in Hasakah or Raqqa provinces, but had become confined to Aleppo and Idlib provinces. Thus, members of the group in eastern Syria- including at this al-Qaa'qaa' training camp, either pledged allegiance to IS or were killed by IS. In such a context, it would therefore not be surprising that al-Ansar Media would cancel the video release. In contrast, the @ansarulislam_sh has recently released photos of the group in Aleppo province under the al-Ansar Media logo, as seen above in the 12 January update.
In short, @ansarulsham appears to be drawing on a legitimate fact (the allegiance/subjugation of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in eastern Syria) to make a false extrapolation.