This is the latest nasheed to be released by the Islamic State's Ajnad Media. Similar to its the nasheed 'The Land of Sinai', this represents an elevation of the importance of the fight in Yemen to the Islamic State's international expansion. One should compare with the statements the Islamic State distributed on the ground in Yemen (here and here) promising bloodthirsty attacks on Houthis prior to the bombings in Sanaa: though the U.S. may be mentioned briefly as a force of evil, the focus is overwhelmingly on the perceived Houthi threat and Iranian expansionism.
"Oh son of Yemen, arise and prepare your [suicide] belt.
The Islamic State [IS] has become well known for its elaborate murals and billboards in keeping with its state building project (e.g. see my posts here and here). However, Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been increasingly building up its own proto-Islamic emirate project in northwestern Syria partly to rival IS, has also been putting up plenty of billboards and murals to advertise its presence. Reflecting that phenomenon are the photos below, most of which date from the last 4 months or so, by which time Jabhat al-Nusra had developed a substantial network of strongholds in Idlib province in particular after routing its main rivals the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Harakat Hazm. Of course this does not mean that Jabhat al-Nusra billboards and murals did not exist previously, but the trend has become more noticeable.
One should compare with the evolution of the Jabhat al-Nusra judicial body front known as Dar al-Qaḍa, reflecting a more hardline approach from Jabhat al-Nusra as regards control of societal institutions and less willingness now to work with other rebel factions in administration. This has given rise to widespread rebel concerns about Jabhat al-Nusra's intentions, partly explaining recent rebel merger formations such as the Levant Front in Aleppo province and the absorption of Suqur al-Sham into Ahrar al-Sham.
Below is an archive I have compiled of over 50 Jabhat al-Nusra billboards and murals.
From Voice of al-Aqsa (Arabic):
"The Hamas movement condemned on Thursday the incident of the attack on tourists in the Bardo museum in Tunis that killed more than 20 people and wounded around 50 of the innocent, describing it as a 'criminal' deed.
The movement said in a summary statement: 'This criminal deed against civilians is a crime against human values, against glorious Tunisia in its people and leadership who have outlined a shining example of democratic operation, peaceful alternation of power and through Tunisia they have crossed towards the land of security.'"
What does this all mean? Foremost, it reflects how rivals of the Islamic State [IS] (notably al-Qa'ida affiliates and Hamas) are trying to position themselves as more 'moderate' than the savagery of IS in a bid to be a viable alternative to IS. Compare with al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula's condemnation of the massive IS-claimed suicide bombings in Sanaa that perhaps killed more than 100 Shi'a Houthis, on the grounds of following Ayman al-Zawahiri's guidelines for restraint to prevent shedding the blood of innocent Muslims. Now contrast with IS statements distributed on the ground in Yemen prior to the officially claimed Sanaa attacks, promising in bloodthirsty language attacks on Houthis. In the end, this kind of appeal to savagery and willingness to take action could be what draws jihadis away from al-Qa'ida to IS, particularly if such deeds strike terror into the enemy and destabilise its power base. The same applies for Hamas and the problem of defections within its ranks to Salafis, particularly of pro-IS orientation: Hamas is simply seen as too restrained in willing to fight Israel and other non-Islamic forces.
Old Saxon, also dubbed Old Low German in scholarship, is another ancient Germanic language for which I have affection, in part owing to its closeness to Old English/Anglo-Saxon, with which it is roughly contemporaneous in history. Indeed, from Old English spoken on the British Isles to Old Saxon spoken in mainland Europe in the area of what is now northern Germany, a linguistic continuum exists, marking off these languages from Old High German (OHG) with a set of sound changes in OHG leaving a clear mark of distinction in its modern descendant- standard German. Looking at the data below, one should compare with the English cognates, and it will be seen that like Old Saxon, English is similarly unaffected by these shifts in High German, thus placing English and Old Saxon on the same spectrum.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Iraq's Insurgency and the Islamic State [IS]: Testimony of Abu Omar al-Falastini
Readers of my blog will be familiar by now with the story of the jihadist group Jamaat Ansar al-Islam. Originally based in Iraq and primarily operating in Ninawa and Kirkuk governorates, the group expanded into Syria in 2011 and spread across the north of the country. However, the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) meant that the group's branch in Syria lost contiguous connection with its original Iraqi parent branch, losing out to ISIS in both Raqqa and Hasakah provinces and thus mainly confined to Aleppo and Idlib provinces in the west of Syria.
Though the parent branch tried to ride the wave of ISIS-spearheaded insurgent gains against government forces in Iraq beginning with the fall of Mosul in June 2014, arrests and killings by ISIS as well as co-optation through defections to ISIS (subsequently IS after the Caliphate declaration on 29 June 2014) meant that most of Iraq's Jamaat Ansar al-Islam had given allegiance to IS by the end of August 2014, with a statement put out by those defectors in the name of the whole group, declaring the dissolution of the organization. Though this was rejected by those who controlled the official Twitter account, subsequent lack of activity within Iraq confirms the de facto dissolution of the Iraqi parent branch. In Syria, IS attempted a similar tactic in January 2015 in having defectors- including those who controlled the Syrian branch's official Twitter account- declare the dissolution of the Syrian branch. Yet as my vindicated analysis showed at the time, the case here was much less solid, and the Syrian branch survives to this day.
This haunting nasheed, released last month by Ajnad Media, was most recently used in the video of the execution of the 'Israeli spy'. It describes the nurturing of a new, young recruit for the Islamic State. Since the execution of the 'Israeli spy' was carried out by a child, it is hardly surprising that this song was used to accompany it. Preliminary translation below:
"We have come, we have come, we have come, as soldiers for God.
We know religion, we live by it; we build an edifice, we ascend it.
We polish a sword that we have sold him; he is given to drink from what quenches his thirst.
We destroy what is despicable and haughty, in monstrosity his world has become agitated.
Blessed is he when he obeys, loving truth. His encounter builds an edifice.
Recently news came out of the official pledge of allegiance from Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram (Jamaat Ahl al-Sunna lil-Da'wah wa al-Jihad) to the Islamic State. For those who had been following Boko Haram's recently set up media wing al-Urwah al-Wuthqa, this development was hardly surprising. On the very surface, Boko Haram was employing high quality photo productions that suggested co-optation by the Islamic State's media wings. A more striking data point was noted by my friend Aaron Zelin in an interview with Boko Haram's official spokesman Abu Mus'ab al-Bernawi released on January 27, 2015, which began and concluded with the unofficial anthem of the Islamic State, 'My Ummah, Dawn Has Appeared,' a song that clearly distinguishes the Islamic State as an identity marker from other groups, produced as it is by the nasheed media wing of the Islamic State: Ajnad Media.
Over the past several months, the contrast traditionally drawn between the Islamic State's (IS) hardline stance against power-sharing with rivals and Jabhat al-Nusra's (JN) more conciliatory approach has become blurred as JN has sought to build up its 'proto-emirate' project after losing out to IS in eastern Syria. One of the most notable developments in this regard has been the establishment of the Dar al-Qaḍa designed to assert JN judicial monopolies in areas where the group has presence, differing from the prior willingness to share Shari'a committees with other factions- particularly of the Islamic Front- and work to gain control of them gradually. In the east, that approach had some success: for example, in the town of Albukamal on the border with Iraq, JN controlled the Shari'a committee and so arguably was the most influential group in Albukamal despite the presence of several other factions.
This project, in parallel with the archive of IS administrative documents, aims to archive JN Dar al-Qaḍa documents to illustrate aspects of JN governance better.
The previous post on the Islamic State (IS) presence in Yemen looked at a sample 'Shari'a Committee' document from a declared Wilayat Shabwa, reflecting on the activist nature of the IS presence. Other documents that have emerged from IS declared provinces in Yemen bear similar implications. Note that the next statement below from 'Aden Province' (not marked with a shadowy 'Shari'a Committee' label), while pointing out the vast array of enemies (including the Yemeni national army), focuses primarily on the sectarian dynamic of the perceived Houthi [Shi'a] threat to Sunnis. The statement explicitly draws an analogy with the notion of protecting Sunnis in Iraq and that narrative Abu Mus'ab Zarqawi had in mind in aiming to provoke Sunni-Shi'a sectarian civil war. There is indeed little hint of the issue of American drone strikes, which, of course, have targeted IS' rivals in al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and so are a grievance for AQAP to play on. With AQAP's lengthy rationale for rejecting the Caliphate declaration, there is also no notion of common solidarity with AQAP in the face of the drone strikes and other threats to jihadis.
It remains to be seen whether IS in Yemen can realize its promise of attacks on Houthis. I am inclined towards skepticism as AQAP can play on the perceived threat of Houthi expansionism to bolster its support. There is no local dynamic in particular about IS in Yemen that should necessarily make it more attractive on the ground than AQAP. Nonetheless, policymakers should remain vigiliant as more evidence emerges.
[Update: here's testimony from an AQAP member on the IS presence in Yemen, which points to military operations in at least one instance against a Houthi checkpoint, though not of great significance. H/T: Miriam Goldman & Ben Decker].
In November 2014, the Islamic State's [IS] leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the acceptance of pledges of allegiance from Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Sinai to herald the creation of new IS 'provinces' (wilayat) ostensibly on the model of administration in the wilayat of Iraq and Syria, which have seen regulations from education to sanitation and real estate. Of these external 'provinces', Libya has thus far shown the most promise for the growth of the IS brand abroad, foremost exemplified in the IS presence in the eastern city of Derna. The 'Sinai' province has some potential too on account of the pledge of allegiance of Jamaat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. In contrast, the IS presence in Algeria is limited to a small and rather insignificant break-off from al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb known as Jund al-Khilafa, whose only notable act to date has been the murder of a French hostage. In Saudi Arabia, the tight security apparatus that has hindered al-Qa'ida activity means that open manifestations of the IS presence would be difficult to realize.
Yemen presents a more interesting case. The country is in total chaos with the collapse of the central government, the growth of the Houthi rebel movement's power, the southern separatist movement, and long-term environmental and overpopulation pressures. Yet Yemen has had a very well-established and powerful al-Qa'ida brand for years in the form of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), together with its front group Ansar al-Shari'a. AQAP more recently has been drawing further popular support in playing on concerns about Houthi expansionism. This thorough grounding of AQAP in the local milieu provides a natural hindrance for the growth of the IS brand in Yemen, regardless of the sympathies expressed for IS' predecessor the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) by AQAP figures like Ma'mun Hatem and the solidarity for IS declared by AQAP in the face of the U.S.-led coalition.
Indeed, there has been hardly any evidence until recently of an IS presence in Yemen. The signs that have just emerged point- unlike Sinai and Libya- to the IS brand as primarily activist in nature, not IS as a viable military force. For example, below is a photo of propaganda material distributed in support of IS in the Hadhramaut area.