A Kurdish al-Qaida? Making Sense of the Ansar al-Islam Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan in the Early 2000s
2. What Are the AI and JAS? Background and Ideological Orientation
The intention behind this limitation is to begin from the Muslim land of Kurdistan because of the presence of suitable conditions for the spread of the Islamic revival among the Muslim people of Kurdistan, and because of the rugged geographic nature of the mountainous region and its vastness. (ibid.)
it is possible that the issue of doubt will come up here and there within the [AI’s] ranks, and that someone will say that the Ansar has betrayed ‘the safety’ (aman) to those that were promised ‘safety’. Beware not to fall into this trap. This is another mistake in the understanding of ‘safety’, its preconditions, and the things that result from it. (…) This doubt which we hear from here and there has no legal basis and we may say it is caused by ignorance of Islam and the Prophetic Traditions.
3. The Iraq War and the AI’s Transformation
3.1. Al-Zarqawi and Foreign Fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan
3.2. The Desctruction of the Kurdish Jihadist Emirate and AI’s Radicalization
3.3. From Ansar al-Islam to Jaysh Ansar al-Sunnah
[JAS]’ tactical repertoire was already extensive and traversed the full range of insurgent operations for which the group is currently renowned, including suicide attacks, car bombings, emplaced improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hostage-taking, executions, assassinations and conventional military attacks. By February 2007, Ansar al-Sunna had claimed responsibility for approximately 1600 attacks in Iraq.
3.4. From ‘Army’ to ‘Society’: The (Distant?) Ambition to Build an Islamic State
3.5. The JAS in the Iraqi Salafi-Jihadi Landscape
‘their negative impacts on the jihad affected the Ummah in general and not only Jama’at Ansar al-Islam […] by the grace of God and His preservation of His religion, the Ummah spat them out’.
4. The AI/JAS’ Role and Ambitions Outside Iraq
4.1. (Alleged) Terrorist Plots by AI/JAS in Europe
In Germany, Ansar-al-Islam members are known to be involved in fund-raising campaigns, human trafficking and the forging of passports and other documents […] So far we have no record of them using force or carrying out assassinations here.
4.2. Making Sense f AI/JAS International Support Networks
Conflicts of Interest
His real name was Ahmad Fadil Nazzal Al-Khalaylah.
An investigator cited by the German Focus magazine, stated that “Ansar al-Sunna […] can hardly be distinguished from the terrorist Al-Zarqawi troop” (Gude 2005). Likewise, the German Der Spiegel referred to the various networks run by AI or JAS sympathisers and supporters in Europe as “part of the underground structure of top terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi” (Der Spiegel 2004b).
It was listed by the UN and the EU already in February 2003 (AI) and March 2004 (JAS) (United Nations 2006, p. 34; Internationella åklagarkammaren i Stockholm 2005, p. 2).
Al-Zarqawi’s group changed its name from Jama‘at al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad to Tanzim Qa‘idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (usually translated as al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI)) in late 2004, and later, in 2006, to the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
E.g., the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in Algeria and Al-Zarqawi’s Unity and Jihad Group (TWJ) in Iraq were accepted into the fold, while the Fatah al-Islam militants in Lebanon were rebuffed when seeking al-Qaida’s endorsement for membership (Interview. 2008. European Intelligence Official, Responsible for Monitoring Jihadist Movements in the Levant. Interview by author. Date and location withheld on request).
Not entirely clear when Krekar ceased to be the emir of Ansar al-Islam. He has claimed in court that he had no role after May 2002, but he seems to have acted as if he was still the emir until early 2003 in media interviews and Ansar al-Islam Website statements (see e.g., Ansar al-Islam Website 2003f).
Kurdish authorities reported the perpetrators to be Ansar al-Islam operatives, although the only captive among the would-be assassins told reporters that he was an AI sympathiser, acting on his own. His motive for killing Salih was typical for jihadist militants: the PM was ‘an infidel’, a Westernized politician, who had been ‘watered like a plant by U.S. policies’ (McKiernan 2002).
For example, a list of top AI leadership figures (16 men) reveals that most of them Kurds, with only one person said to be an Arab, living in Baghdad (Sorany 2012, p. 240).
Krekar said in the interview: “the jihadi arena [in Kurdistan] lacks jihadi leaders and senior operatives because most of these fine men emigrated to the Sunni triangle in order to form the spear’s head in the face of the occupation and hence, our arena was left empty. And when we asked that they returned some of their leaders and some of their trained youth to Kurdistan, they responded that their positions/presence in the Sunni Iraqi triangle has attained such a strategic importance that it was difficult for them to leave. [they said]: It is necessary to be patient until the occupation forces have left” (time: 26:30–27:25). Author’s translation. (Ansar Media Center’s Website 2010, audiofile: 26:30–27:25).
For example, it starts out by citing a typical Salafist formulation that ‘the worst of things are renewals [of the Qur’an and the Prophetic Traditions], any renewal is innovation (bid‘ah), innovation leads astray (dalala) and everything that leads astray ends up in hell (kull dalala fi al-nar)’. Similarly, it also condemns ‘those who deviate and suspend, in the name of interpretation, what has been elaborated in the books of the virtuous forefathers (al-salaf al-salih)’ (cited in Ansar al-Islam Website 2003g).
As part of the justification for this position, the Shura Council referred to the practices of the Prophets as retold in several ‘true hadiths’ of ‘dispatching assassination squads against the infidel parties, for example against Basmat bint Marwan al-Khatmiyya who was causing harm to God’s Prophet, against Ka‘b bin al-Ashraf and many others’ (cited in Ansar al-Islam Website 2003c). Not surprisingly, these theological arguments were more or less copied from Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya’s writings (his book al-Sarim al-Maslul), who is without doubt the most important medieval Islamic theologian for modern-day jihadis.
In fact, already in 2002, well before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA director had pressed for military operations against what they believed were ‘Al-Qaida members’ and ‘chemical weapons facilities’ in Khurmal, allegedly controlled by Ansar al-Islam (Rumsfeld 2011, p. 447). By mid-2002, the existence of such plans was already circulating in the media (BBC 2002b). Rumsfeld admitted in his memoirs that the intelligence was not ‘conclusive’ (Rumsfeld 2011, p. 447). In fact, it turned out that the district and town of Khurmal was controlled by Komala Islami, a small pro-Iranian Islamist group in opposition to AI (New York Times 2003b). Still, the Bush administration has much criticized for not striking against suspected Zarqawi hideouts in Northern Iraq prior to the invasion, prioritizing instead regime change over ‘removing’ dangerous terrorists (Benjamin 2004).
Yasin al-Bahr was his kunya in Kurdistan. His real name was Suhayl bin Jasim al-Sahli. Another of his kunyas was Abu al-Shahid al-Sharqi.
According to one study, citing reports by inhabitants in Ansar controlled villages on the Iraqi-Iranian border claimed that that “Iran now allows Ansar al-Islam to operate from safe houses in adjacent Iranian towns such as Mariwan. In other cases, Iranian authorities held Ansar militants for a few days and then brought them back to the border, returned their weapons to them, and allowed them to reenter Iraq.” Cited in (Romano 2007, pp. 13, 18).
A suicide attack by AI was narrowly foiled in 2002 when a 19-year old Kurdish AI-recruit, Didar Khalid Khedr, failed to detonate his device outside a peshmerga headquarter in the town of Sayid Sadiq (The Sydney Morning Herald 2002).
German Prosecutors via Telephone. Interview by author. Date not recorded.
The Department of Treasury’s statement on Krekar suggested, at least implicitly, that Krekar continued to actively travel to Europe and Iraq for fundraising and recruitment purposes, while in fact, he did not leave Norway since his repatriation in January 2003. In particular, it stated that “Krekar has visited Germany several times and during these trips conducted fundraising for AS and performed logistical activities”, which makes little sense in view of the fact that Jaysh Ansar al-Sunnah was formed only in late 2003 (U.S. Department of the Treasury 2006).
Interview. 2005. European Intelligence Official, Responsible for Monitoring the JAS and the al-Zarqawi Group in Iraq. Interview by author. Date and location withheld on request.
In an interview with the Beirut-based weekly Al-Muharrir in August 2004, a person identified as Abu al-Hasan, presented as the JAS ‘emir’ spoke openly about their cordial relationship with the Mehdi Army, the Shi‛ite militia of Muqtada Sadr: ‘We exchanged mujahidin with Al-Sayyid Muqtada. We sent him about 200 of our mujahidin and he sent 250 of the Al-Mahdi Army mujahidin to Al-Fallujah. Therefore, the relationship can be described as intimate. […] Our conditions are full withdrawal from all the Iraqi territories from the north to the south and compensation of every family in our beloved Iraq for the loss or injury of its children or honor and the destruction of their homes, provided that all Iraqi prisoners are set free and the Islamic laws are respected. The resistance men should avoid worldly posts. This is done in accordance with the agreement signed with Al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr’. Cited in Al-Muharrir Weekly (2004).
All 14 editions were search for the following words: ابو مصعب الزرقاوي or الزرقاوي or أبي مصعب or الأمير الذباح or أبو مصعب or جماعة التوحيد والجهاد or قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين.
Interview. 2006. German Journalist Covering Terrorism Issues in Germany. Interview by author. London. April 28.
German Prosecutors via Telephone. Interview by author. Date not recorded.
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Lia, B. A Kurdish al-Qaida? Making Sense of the Ansar al-Islam Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan in the Early 2000s. Religions 2022, 13, 203. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030203
Lia B. A Kurdish al-Qaida? Making Sense of the Ansar al-Islam Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan in the Early 2000s. Religions. 2022; 13(3):203. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030203Chicago/Turabian Style
Lia, Brynjar. 2022. "A Kurdish al-Qaida? Making Sense of the Ansar al-Islam Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan in the Early 2000s" Religions 13, no. 3: 203. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030203