IS disciplines some emirs to avoid losing base

In an attempt to improve its public image, the Islamic State has warned members in a circular against posting videos of killings.

al-monitor An Islamic State militant uses a loudspeaker to announce to residents of Tabqa city that Tabqa air base had fallen to Islamic State militants, in nearby Raqqa city, Aug. 24, 2014. Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

video, takfiri, syria, sharia, islamic state, iraq, apostasy

Sep 2, 2014

The Islamic State (IS) took action against some of its Sharia and security emirs (or leaders), ranging from warnings and detentions to killings, according to one of the circulating stories. The militant group also issued a circular providing directives for the publication of photos of slaughter and beheadings. On the other hand, a dispute emerged among senior theorists within the militant group on the practice of takfir — the act of issuing a religious order declaring someone an infidel, a form of excommunication — against those who are deemed ignorant, whereby the movement which did not see the need to declare the opponent a takfiri prevailed.

Around two weeks ago IS arrested a number of its leaders, including Abu Jafar al-Hattab (a Sharia emir), Abu Musab al-Tunisi (a former emir in Deir ez-Zor), Abu Asid al-Maghrebi, Abu al-Hawra al-Jazaeri, Abu Khaled al-Sharqi and Abu Abdullah al-Maghrebi (a security emir in Aleppo). These leaders were charged with excessive takfir accusations.

It is worth mentioning that an audio clip of Abu Musab al-Tunisi was leaked, in which he requested the takfir of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda.

Abu Jaafar al-Hattab, one of the members of the Sharia Commission, drafted the lengthy report requiring the takfir of all the Islamic Front and Free Syrian Army leaders. Information indicated that al-Hattab was the mastermind behind this report, however, his arrest did not mean that IS renounced its judgment accusing the IF and FSA leaders of apostasy, but rather indicated the end of al-Hattab’s role at this stage.

As for Abu Abdullah al-Maghrebi, rumors had spread that he was liquidated by IS, which discovered his ties with British intelligence, without any official statement being issued in this regard.

The “Velayat of Aleppo” (an Ottoman era term for the administrative body of Aleppo) decided to place Abu Omar al-Kuwaiti in solitary confinement for having disregarded the leadership’s instructions not to express his views on social networking sites. Al-Kuwaiti is the founder of the Soldiers of the Caliphate battalion, which was turned into Jamaat al-Muslimeen shortly before pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Al-Kuwaiti believed that the Caliphate must be assigned to Abu Mohammad al-Rifai and his supporters residing in Britain. The circumstances of his pledge of allegiance and his background are not yet clear.

The dispute erupted with al-Kuwaiti when he started talking publicly about the takfir of al-Zawahiri, under the pretext that the latter was not issuing a fatwa for the ruling of takfir upon Shiites and applying the principle that ignorance is an excuse.

According to al-Kuwaiti, there is no such thing as “ignorance as an excuse” for polytheism and those who excuse the ignorant must also be subject to takfir. This raised the problem of placing the ruling of takfir upon those who are excused by ignorance. Sheikh Ahmed al-Hazmi was one the fiercest advocates of this theory, which caused confusion in the ranks of IS recently and required the action mentioned above.

It should be noted that al-Kuwaiti, who entered Syrian territory nearly two years ago and who is known for his extremism, formed an alliance with the Abu el-Banat battalion led by Daghestani. Daghestani was a radical, known as Abu al-Banat before the battalion was dissolved and he was arrested in Turkey, where he has been undergoing trial for several months.

Al-Kuwaiti had a prominent role in the events of the town of al-Dana in Idlib’s countryside last year, which led to widespread clashes between battalions of the Free Syrian Army and IS.

The general committee of IS issued circular No. 7, prohibiting the recording and publishing of scenes of slaughter carried out by IS soldiers, whether during invasions or not. According to this circular, the publication of such footage requires a special permission from the committee and any violating party will be held accountable.

This comes after hundreds of photos and videos of slaughter carried out by IS members beforehand under the slogan “Our Victory With Terror” went viral on social networking sites.

This circular led to more doubts about the photos distributed on Aug. 29 in the name of IS showing the slaughter of a Lebanese soldier, especially since the official page of the organization has not yet claimed responsibility for this operation.

While some believe that these developments indicate a reconsideration within the IS leadership aimed at limiting the phenomenon of takfir and excessive violence, especially since its implications started affecting the organization itself. Others believe there are no real reconsideration but rather that IS leaders believe that the current stage calls for mitigating violence and gaining the trust of the popular base. This is especially true since the coming days will be difficult, given the possibility of US strikes. Therefore, it is in IS’s best interest to neutralize “the populace” to prevent it from cooperating with the new alliance being formed against IS both in Iraq and Syria.

It is likely that the group’s latest steps to improve its image, and that it has summoned one of its senior officials — the Bahraini Sheikh Turky al-Binali — from Syria to Iraq to discuss the issue of “legitimate” factions, had a direct impact on the decision of Ansar al-Islam leaders to pledge allegiance to IS, following clashes between the two sides for years.

It should be noted that on Aug. 29 a statement on behalf of 50 leaders of Ansar al-Islam in Iraq was issued, declaring that the organization had been completely dissolved while pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliphate.

A section of Ansar al-Islam, however, rejected this statement, considering it to be a severe blow to Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, which have been trying to attract Ansar al-Islam to their ranks for the past few months to form a stronger unit against IS in Iraq.

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