Polemical debates among Islamic State (IS) supporters continue to rage online. The two main parties to the debate are 'dissenters' who believe that IS ranks feature too many extremists on one side, and supporters of official IS media on the other (i.e. the 'mainstream'). The latter accuse the former of being 'suspect' primarily because the 'dissenters' have published material without the authorization from the IS.
There is however a third party in the debate consisting of IS supporters who believe that IS has deviated in the opposite direction to what the 'dissenters' consider to be extremist. This third party is critical of IS for (i) retracting the controversial statement issued by the Delegated Committee in spring 2017 CE that affirmed takfir to be an essential foundation of the religion and (ii) issuing the series of official audio lectures to clarify issues of ideology and Islamic knowledge. It will be recalled that the controversial statement issued in spring 2017 CE was sharply criticized by IS scholars like the Bahraini cleric Turki Binali, who is highly revered by the 'dissenters.' Conversely, the third party attacks the likes of Binali and other scholars revered by the 'dissenters' as ignoramuses.
In common with the 'dissenters', the third party has leaked much material without official IS approval, though in this case the primary agenda is to discredit Binali et al. One of the Telegram channels associated with the third party recently leaked an internal Diwan al-Amn al-Aam (Public Security Department) report from November 2015 CE that discusses the phenomenon of 'extremism' within IS ranks, focusing on the Syrian territories of IS. That channel's agenda in leaking the report partly relates to the mention in the report of a Saudi scholar called Abu Bakr al-Qahtani, another scholar revered by the 'dissenters' and noted in the report for his efforts to combat 'extremism'. I have translated this report in full below.
The report is generally useful for gaining an idea of 'extremism' in IS from a historical perspective. Some of the ideas dismissed as 'extremist' (e.g. no excuse in ignorance and disbelief- 'kufr'- being the principle in people) will be familiar to those who followed the split in IS' West Africa province ('wilaya') as they are espoused by Abu Bakr Shekau, who was removed as governor of the affiliate.
There are other points of interest in the report. First, it is striking how the phenomenon of 'extremism' is associated with foreigners in IS' ranks, especially non-Arabs such as Azeris. Second, one should note that it had been suggested in 'Principles in the Administration of the Islamic State' that IS should work to break down distinctions between muhajireen (foreigners) and ansar (locals of Iraq and Syria). The book claimed that after the Caliphate had been formed, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered to establish a camp in the Syria-Iraq border areas for such a purpose. From that camp, the work claimed, joint combat groups of muhajireen and ansar were formed, as well as groups composed of muhajireen from a variety of Western states. Despite such measures and the general disappearance from social media of IS fighting groups based around specific nationalities and ethnicities (e.g. Katibat al-Bittar al-Libi), this Diwan al-Amn al-Aam report notes that there is still the phenomenon of personnel coming together at the battalion level on the basis of nationality.
Third, the report highlights some administrative problems in IS, such as lack of clarity in the relations between the greater Diwan al-Amn al-Aam and the provincial centers of the Diwan, as well as undue interference by personal connections, such as the provincial governor (wali) of Aleppo's prevention of a crackdown on an alleged extremist grouping led by Abu Ayyub al-Tunisi.
Fourth, we gain a general idea of the composition of IS ranks at the time: namely, most of the fighters were newer recruits to the organization, indicating the large surge of local and foreign recruits to IS after the Caliphate was declared at the end of June 2014 CE.
For reference, note the following geographic and administrative references.
Wilayat al-Jazeera: a province created by IS to span the borders of Iraq and Syria. Tel Afar to the west of Mosul was the most notable city under its control.
al-Ra'i: small town in north Aleppo countryside near the border with Turkey.
al-Tabqa: town in al-Raqqa province.
al-Bab: town in north Aleppo countryside- one of the main IS administrative centers in Aleppo province prior to its capture by Turkish-backed rebels.
General Supervisory Committee (aka General Governing Committee): predecessor of the Delegated Committee.
Diwan al-Amn al-Aam
Date: 2 Safr 1437 AH [14 November 2015 CE]
Report on the phenomenon of extremism in the Islamic State
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
1. Summary on the growth of extremism in the Islamic State (in al-Sham):
It is possible to say that the phenomenon of extremism in takfir began to appear openly in the Dawla after the war of the Sahwat when the Islamic State withdrew to specific areas and gained complete control in these areas with no presence for other factions.
But in truth the appearance of extremism in this time was a side-effect and not beginning, as it has been established that extremism was present before this time and led to many incidents of unduly taking wealth from the Muslim masses. These incidents happened at the hands of extremists in different areas, most prominent among them Aleppo countryside and Idlib.
And after the war of the Sahwat extremism appeared as an open movement in the ranks of the Dawla and this phenomenon became prominent in public debates with the extremists, Shari'i lessons and debates through the Internet represented in the one called Ahmad al-Hazimi.
And Abu al-Hawra' al-Jaza'iri and Abu Khalid al-Sharqi would give lessons in their creed to the brothers in some sectors of the Dawla and the imams of the mosques in Wilayat al-Raqqa.
And the da'wa of the extremists became clear in the following:
1. Takfir of the one who excuses in ignorance and takfir of the one who does not declare takfir on him.
2. Takfir of the one ignorant of Tawheed with a breakdown.
3. Asserting that the principle in people is kufr.
And as a result this generation of extremists asserted the takfir of leaders of the Dawla because they did not declare takfir on Ayman al-Zawahiri who excuses in ignorance, just as they asserted the takfir of the Muslims in al-Sham on various grounds including: that they have served previously in the army of the Nusayri regime, or they elected Bashar al-Assad, or they were affiliated with the Ba'ath Party or they did not disavow loyalty to Bashar...etc.
Just as they asserted the takfir of the soldiers and amirs of the Dawla because they do not declare takfir of the Muslim masses.
And among the heads of this generation according to the information available to us:
1. Abu Ja'afar al-Hattab
2. Abu Khalid al-Sharqi
3. Abu al-Hawra' al-Jaza'iri
4. Abu Omar al-Kuwaiti
5. Abu Hajer al-Jazrawi
6. Abu al-Bara' al-Madani
7. Abu Suhaib al-Tunisi
8. Abu Mu'sab al-Tunisi
And among the non-Arabs:
1. Khattab al-Azeri
2. Umair al-Azeri
3. Abu Ahmad al-Daghestani
And this generation is considered the most dangerous in view of the fact that some of its members occupied positions of responsibility in the Islamic State like: Abu Ja'afar al-Hattab (official of the Diwan al-Ta'aleem), Abu Khalid al-Sharqi (Shari'i of Wilayat al-Raqqa and qadhi of the security officials), Abu Hawra' al-Jaza'iri (awqaf official in Wilayat al-Raqqa) and Khattab al-Azeri (a well-known military commander among the Azeris).
2. The procedures taken against the extremists:
The Islamic State arrested most of the extremists of the first generation and the preachers among them were killed in rebuke and statements were issued on that and the rest were released after discussion with them and their retraction of their thought.
3. Tracking the extent of the phenomenon of extremism:
After the Dawla killed the heads of the extremists and imprisoned some, extremism turned into a non-public state and declined very greatly and did not return as a phenomenon praise be to God. And extremism after that took the form of secret groups limited in number and some of the cells that had secret da'wa activity to some extent, and among these groups:
- Alfir al-Azeri group
- Abu Huraira al-Shishani group
- Abu Abdullah al-Tunisi group
- Abu Suhail al-Masri group
- Abu Ayub al-Tunisi group
Also some of the extremists appeared as individuals and limited da'wa activity among the soldiers of the Dawla and all of these cases of extremists were dealt with by the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam except some of the cases we will mention subsequently, if God Almighty wills.
And the method adopted by the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam over the course of more than a year was embodied in arresting all against whom extremism was proven and imprisoning him and carrying out an interrogation with him and being certain of what was attributed to him, then their suspicions would be repelled through debate with them in Shari'i discussion sessions. Championing that was Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Qahtani.
Then he would give his opinion and we would refer the result to the General Supervisory Committee, as then all who retracted his ideas and had a written pledge taken upon him not to engage in issues of extremism would be released. In addition, the heads of the cells would be killed along with those who plotted hostile deeds against the Dawla and likewise the one whose return to takfir of the Dawla after pledging and promising to go back on extremist ideology.
And we note here also that all cases of extremism were referred to the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam from all the wilayas of al-Sham and some of the wilayas of Iraq and all whose extremism was established against him was got out and there was correspondence with the side that sent him.
And as a result, some 70 people of the extremists were killed in reprimand, while more than 50 fled to Turkey, the majority of them Azeris, and some of them have returned to their home country, and there are some who lack discipline within the battalions of non-Arabs in Wilayat al-Jazeera.
4. The reality of extremism in the Dawla with the end of 1436 AH:
The danger of extremism to the Islamic State became less after the killing of the prominent people among them but the danger of extremism remains and is embodied in the following:
The phenomenon of extremism has now taken on another form embodied in stirring up doubts in takfir of the Muslim masses or stirring up doubts regarding books of fiqh and it will be observed that the extremists avoid takfir of the amirs of the Dawla and its soldiers. We can almost assert that this is dissimulation by some of the extremists to avoid arrest. And most of the suspicions that are stirred up currently:
- Muslims in Dar al-Kufr resorting to the arbitration of the court to recover rights.
- The ruling on the guardian who sends his children to the schools of the regime in Dar al-Kufr.
- Ruling on the Muslim masses in Dar al-Islam from those who do not know the creed of Tawheed and conditions of there is no deity but God.
- The ruling on praying behind the masses in Dar al-Islam.
- Wearing the clothes of the disbelievers and the regime army in battle.
And these doubts are for the greatest part stirred up by non-Arabs, and the stirring up of these doubts among the soldiers of the Dawla has great harm on their manhaj and the extent of their affiliation with the Islamic State and that is in view of the fact that most of the soldiers of the Dawla are from the newly affiliated and young and they have no knowledge, and the stirring up of the likes of these doubts creates among them a state of doubt and stumbling as the one who stirs up these doubts normally brings them down on the Muslim masses in the Islamic State. This stirs up widespread controversy among the soldiers about whether to declare takfir on these people or not.
And we affirm here the following points:
1. Most of the groupings of extremists in the ranks of the Dawla are in Wilayat al-Jazeera and in the battalions of the non-Arabs in particular and we referred reports previously on this matter and we attach a report about a sample of them with this report of ours.
2. There is still a group of extremists in al-Bab town and it is the group of Abu Ayyub al-Tunisi and we affirm that he is a dangerous person and we have referred what establishes that and we have demanded for him to be arrested with his group but this has not been done because of the intervention of the brother the wali of Aleppo and his following of the matter, and the group is:
1. Abu Ayyub al-Tunisi: a long-time figure in al-Sham and he was previously arrested in Iraq on accusation of extremism and he was referred to the Diwan al-Amn and he got out after pledging not to get involved in issues of extremism.
2. Abu al-Darda' al-Tunisi (who accompanies Abu Ayyub).
3. Abu al-Yaman al-Tunisi.
4. Abu Qatada al-Tunisi.
5. Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Libi.
We also note the danger of Abu Khalid al-Tunisi, Abu al-Mu'atasem al-Tunisi, Jahabdha al-Tunisi. These three have extremism and have a particular position on the Dawla but the lines of evidence that we have fall short of proof.
3. Most of these areas in which these extremists are found are: Wilayat al-Jazeera (Tel Afar), the city of al-Tabqa, the city of al-Raqqa, the locality of al-Ra'i.
4. Many of the doubts of extremism are borne among the soldiers of the Dawla as a result of their erroneous understanding of the third nullifier of Islam that Sheikh Muhammad Bin Abd al-Wahhab (may God Almighty have mercy on him) mentioned: "Whoso does not declare takfir on the idolaters or doubts their kufr..."
5. Reasons for the phenomenon of extremism, and we mention among them:
- The erroneous understanding among many of the soldiers of the Dawla of issues of Tawheed and its types and conditions of there is no deity but God and some of the nullifiers.
- The path pursued in teaching issues of Tawheed and the obstacles to takfir in the camps of the Dawla as they do not encourage effort to raise the brothers to a level of knowledge that allows them to deal with the doubts that are stirred up on Tawheed and the nullifiers of Islam and wala' and bara' and especially what concerns the third nullifier.
For most of the brothers in the camps memorize the nullifier in its text without realizing or understanding the detailing of this matter and perhaps that goes back to their lack of ability to understand the language of knowledge in which the lessons are given.
- Weakness of Shari'i activity in general among the soldiers of the Dawla and in particular in the battalions of non-Arabs.
- The activity that some of the extremists continue to engage in: these extremists who have fled outside the borders of the Dawla and broadcast doubts about the manhaj of the Dawla and likewise some of their followers inside the Dawla.
- Lack of debates with the brothers who are imprisoned on suspicion of extremism despite the length of their imprisonment that normally reaches three months, which makes for imprisonment a negative consequence in healing them.
- Lack of presence of a useful remedy for the phenomenon of lack of discipline and it is considered the twin sister for the phenomenon of extremism as many of those who lack discipline resort to finding reasons for their lack of discipline before others besides them on the pretext of the presence of doubts in the manhaj of the Dawla just as most of the extremists are inclined to lack of discipline and getting near to those who lack discipline.
- The Dawla's lack of ability until now to get rid of the phenomenon of the brothers coming together in some of the battalions on the basis of nationalities, especially non-Arabs.
- Weakness of security work against the extremists in the eastern wilaya and especially wilayat al-Jazeera that is considered the place of gathering of many of them as many of the Azeri extremists moved from al-Raqqa to al-Jazeera in a previous time (Katibat Khattab al-Azeri).
- Lack of presence of particular Shari'i tracking in confronting extremism among the ranks of the Dawla.
6. The obstacles that confront work against the extremists:
1. Lack of Shari'i cadres who can assume responsibility for discussion with the extremists during their imprisonment.
2. Weakness of coordination between the eastern wilayas and the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam in observing the activity of the extremists.
3. Intervention of some parties in the particular task of the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam in assuming responsibility for cases of extremism and from that:
- The brother the wali of Aleppo in the case of Abu Ayyub al-Tunisi and his group.
- The brother the wali of Raqqa in the case of Abu Jihad al-Libi.
- The General Committee that is embodied in Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Ilami (may God protect him) in the case of Abu Ahmad al-Faransi.
And all of these cases have impeded the particular task of the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam in this field and the likes of this matter will lead to great chaos and lack of control over the phenomenon of extremism as a result.
4. Lack of clarity of the relations between the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam and the security centres in the wilayas, which generally impacts the level of work and coordination between the two sides.
1. Review of the means of teaching issues of Tawheed and nullifiers of Islam especially the third nullifier in the camps of the Dawla, in accordance with the ability of the soldiers to understand these issues.
2. Forming a particular Shari'i committee with the time to work on the phenomenon of extremism and it is very important that one of its members be among the non-Arabs.
3. Confining security work and trial in the case of extremism to the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam with the recommendation that all sectors of the Dawla cooperate with the Diwan in this field.
4. Directing the eastern wilayas to pursue comprehensive and lasting work programs to track the activity of the extremists and follow them and designate a particular party for that.
5. Putting in place a comprehensive plan at the level of the Dawla to work on combating the phenomenon of lack of discipline and remedying it.
6. Directing the relevant people in the Dawla to the necessity of working to be rid of the phenomenon of blocks on the basis of nationality that remain ingrained in the Dawla even among the Arab nationalities and God is the One whose help is to be sought.
- Report on extremists in al-Jazeera.
- List of names of those arrested by the Diwan al-Amn al-Aam on suspicions of extremism recently.
Diwan al-Amn al-Aam