Rifts Emerge Among Salafists About Waging Jihad in Syria

Article Summary
Tamer al-Samadi interviews Salafists living in Jordan and discusses their differing opinions on the conduct of jihad in Syria, revealing emerging rifts within the fundamentalist movement. He also suggests the Assad regime could use the fight against terrorism as a pretext for prolonging its rule.

In one of the small neighborhoods of the Jordanian Al-Zarqa city, Al-Hayat met with Fadi al-Qabawi, a young man in his thirties who is a part of the jihadist Salafi trend. Al-Qabawi is known by his nom de guerre Abu-al-Batar al-Urduni, while the Syrian media calls him Abu al-Barra al-Sulti. The Al-Dunia channel, which is close to the Syrian regime, had announced a few days ago the killing of Al-Qabawi by the security forces in a firefight in Halab city.

Al-Dunia broadcast a picture of the supposedly late ”terrorist” from the Jordanian city of Al-Salat. This picture led us to Abu-al-Battar, who is still alive and residing in the marginalized Al-Ghuwayrah area, situated 25 km northeast. This area has a reputation for exporting jihadists to Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya.

At sunset, we were able to visit Abu-al-Battar at his modest home. He was wearing traditional Afghan clothing and a military jacket, with his hair touching his shoulders and a long beard.

With a sense of irony and cynicism Abu-al-Battar wondered why the Syrian regime presented him as a fighter and then announced his death. He was not comfortable with the meeting, because the ongoing security situation forced him to distance himself from the media. He justified his caution by saying that jihadists are subject to intense surveillance by the security services, and any media appearance or photo will get him in trouble. The authorities had imposed a travel ban on him after he was accused by the State Security Court of terrorist acts.

Abu-al-Battar, who is known for his arrogance, subscribes to the jihadist Salafi trend in Syria and is a student of Isam al-Barqawi, aka Abu-Muhammad al-Maqdissi, who is currently serving a five-year prison term in Jordan. Abu-al-Battar is very much concerned with his anti-Syrian regime “brothers,” who are being subjected to killing and torture.

Mounif Samarah, a leading figure in the jihadist Salafi trend, said that "the picture broadcast by the [official] Syrian media belongs to Fadi al-Qabawi.  He adds that "this picture was taken last year during a demonstration staged in front of the government headquarters."

The archive of the jihadists includes a number of pictures of Al-Qabawi during the demonstration. Surprisingly, it was one of these pictures that was aired on Al-Dunia.

There are some who are preparing to head to Syria.  It seems that the fatwa  issued by the religious authority in Saudi Arabia, Abd Shahadah, aka Abu Muhamamd al-Tahawi, had a great impact and motivated the Islamist enthusiasts [to carry out jihad in Syria].

According to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, "the General Intelligence services thwarted an attempt by a group to cross the [Syrian-Jordanian] border.  The group was arrested [and held] for investigation."

Jordanian local authorities are not revealing any information about the arrest of a number of jihadists as they tried to infiltrate Syria via Jordan. However, Minister [of State for Media Affairs and] government spokesman Rakan al-Majali confirmed that the relevant services have absolute control over the border with Syria, including [the authority to use] strict [enforcement] measures.

A Call for Jihad

Al-Tahawi's recent fatwa, which was not widely circulated by local media, stated "I can find a reason neither for myself nor for my brothers capable of preventing us from carrying out jihad in Syria”, adding: "We will retaliate against the attacks launched by Bashar al-Assad and his associates by sending our dearest sons to inflict on him the harshest punishment."

He added: "The blood and the remains of the people of Homs and Hama are knocking on the gates of heaven; the banners of victory are flying in Dar ez-Zour and Al-Bukamal; and the angels are spreading their wings over Damascus, the land of Muslims."

In an interview with Al-Hayat, Al-Tahawi did not hesitate to declare that jihad is to be carried out in Syria to "support the Sunnis." He said that "Muslims are more deserving of Syria than the NATO forces," and that "everyone should send money and weapons to support your brothers in Syria."

While the jihadists in Jordan agree on carrying out jihad in Syria, there is disagreement in the ranks over the forms of jihad required. These rifts were apparent in the statements issued by a number of leading figures within the trend.

Al-Tahawi publicly called for supporting jihadists in Syria, and confirmed that the call is directed to all peoples in the Arab world. Munif Samarah, a leading figure in the Salafi movement, said that "the jihad required at this moment is to send money, weapons, and military commanders so that they can operate in the field in Syria.

Concern Over the Enthusiasts

[Dr. Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim] Samarah, who is one of the few wealthy leading figures in the Salafi trend, expressed his concern over what he called the “enthusiasts” within the trend, who lack any jihadist experience.  He believes that they should not be sent to the battlefield. However, during our meeting with Samarah in his spacious house, built on one of the hills overlooking Al-Zarqa city, he confirmed that now is the right time to carry out jihad in the Levant.

[Another] leader in the jihadist trend, Muhammad al-Shibli, aka Abu-Sayyaf, supports Al-Tahawi's statements. Al-Shibli, who is from the southern city of Ma'an, states that jihad is present in Syria, and jihadist rule will be imposed on all Syrian Muslims in order to end all [acts of] aggression perpetrated by the Nusayri [Syrian Allawite] regime.

However, Abu-Sayyaf does not agree with Al-Tahawi about sending the youth into the battlefields. In this regard, he says that "the Arab regimes are preventing any infiltration attempt into Syrian territories. The borders between us and Syria are closed, and over ten of our members are in Jordanian prisons, accused of illegally infiltrating into neighboring countries."

The Salfi leader explained the pros and cons [of Al-Tahawi's proposal]. He says that Jordanians "cannot easily enter the jihadist battlefields because that would result in greater evils."

"Syria does not need men. We urge the Syrians to resist the regime instead of staging demonstrations." Abu Sayyaf adds: "Islam calls upon Muslims to support their Syrian brothers with money and weapons. This is based on the doctrine of loyalty and disavowal” [the principle of loyalty and friendship vs. disavowal and enmity is central to Islam]. A number of jihadists interviewed by Al-Hayat did not hide their fear of what they called the massive slaughterhouse awaiting them in Syria, and said that the security services in Syria are daring them to enter. Many of them choose to avoid the media.

Jihadist websites are flooded with calls to "support the oppressed Syrian people," in a scenario reminiscent of the [previous calls to Jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan].

Expected Directions

According to experts on Islamic movements, the new approach adopted by the jihadist trend in Jordan was expected. This is because the trend maintains a hostile posture towards the Syrian regime, since it "is a sectarian regime, and the ongoing events have further aggravated the situation."

Al-Hayat interviewed a number of politicians who considered the current regional atmosphere to be inappropriate for the crossing of jihadists into Syria, because Iraq and Lebanon are diligently controlling the borders to thwart any attempts at infiltration into Syria.

Meanwhile, experts on Al-Qaeda affairs said that the expertise of the jihadists accumulated over the years will enable them to develop logistical solutions for entering the Syrian territories

Hasan Abu Haniyyah, expert on Islamic groups, said that "the ongoing killing in Syria shifted the stances of Al-Qaeda and prompted it to militarize the revolution."

Hanniyah summed up the situation by saying that the Iraqi scenario will happen again in Syria.  One of the jihadist trends in Jordan that adopts the ideology of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will attempt to engage on the battlefield in the neighbor to the north, while the trend affiliated with Abu Muhammad al-Maqdissi will choose to remain in Jordan without attacking the legitimacy of jihad in Syria. Hanniyah expects that the dispute over the Syrian situation will create further rifts within the trend and within the Jordanian regime, which fears close contact with its Syrian counterpart.

He notes that the Syrian regime seeks to militarize the revolution, in an attempt to emulate the Yemeni situation.  The regime seeks to prolong its tenure and marginalize the role of the West.  It also attempts to force the West to stand by it in its fight against terrorism.

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